I'm about to retire to my tent (it's cooler now, so the tent won't be a sweatbox, and once I'm in the tent I won't have to slather on all that anti-bug crap), but I wanted to make a quick remark about Obama's choice of Joe Biden as running mate, a move that appears to be garnering Big O some flak from both sides of the aisle.
What boggles my mind is that there are still people out there who think Hillary would have made a better choice. Such people have lost touch with reality: Hillary Clinton would have been the kiss of death for the Dems. I say that as a disinterested party, being neither liberal nor conservative.
The GOP has been in disarray since at least 2006 if not before; it's one of the reasons why they ended up with presumptive nominee John McCain and not a more classically conservative Republican like Fred Thompson. The common wisdom (and this is subscribed to by many of the saner Democrats) has been that to bring Hillary into the fray would be to hand the Republicans the perfect target on which to focus their energy. I think this is still true; Hillary-as-veep would sink Obama's chances far more quickly and decisively than almost any other Democrat choice. Hillary would bring not only her own baggage, but also that of her scene-stealing husband.
Conservative remarks about Biden have been along the lines of "Ha! He's not far removed from McCain on foreign policy!" and "Biden represents the status quo, not change!" If that's the best the GOP attack machine can muster, then I'd say Biden's a good, solid choice. If we read between the lines, the implication seems to be that Biden will serve as a complement to Obama's idealism and very liberal voting record. How is that a bad thing?
Now I'll be morbidly curious to see whom McCain picks. Many GOPers see McCain as too, well, liberal for their tastes, which is why I think Fred Thompson might actually be a good complement for him.
Saturday, August 23, 2008
I'm about to retire to my tent (it's cooler now, so the tent won't be a sweatbox, and once I'm in the tent I won't have to slather on all that anti-bug crap), but I wanted to make a quick remark about Obama's choice of Joe Biden as running mate, a move that appears to be garnering Big O some flak from both sides of the aisle.
It's been a fairly quiet, fairly lazy Saturday. The major issues for today revolved around doing laundry (I decided against it), purifying water (done, but will do it again this evening), recording some video segments for my long un-updated YouTube channel (done), and setting up some sort of shade close to camp to allow me to endure the 92-degree heat (done).
Being alone like this is unbelievably refreshing, though I'm not particularly tempted to cavort naked through the scrub. I still get visits from the occasional pickup truck; more and more, I suspect the people aren't fishermen so much as randy couples looking for a make-out spot, which is why they flee: what would fishermen have to fear from me? Speaking of fish, there are some huge specimens in this river, and they swim right up to the riverbank. I almost wish I had a fishing pole.
The solar charger has been doing yeoman's work for me; I finally realized that the secret to getting a lot of charge is to keep the BlackBerry off while it's loading up on the charger's stored power (duh). When I'm in a motel room, I normally charge the phone and use it at the same time, which creates the illusion that the phone charges rapidly even when being used. In reality, a wall socket practically pours electricity into the BlackBerry whereas the solar charger can only manage a trickle. This is why the phone needs to be off.
Even though I've been resting for much of the day, I'm fairly achy. I'm glad that tomorrow's walk will be only about twelve miles; managing more than that would be problematic.
So far today, the most exciting event was my encounter with the black widow in my backpack. I tried to take a picture of the spider, but I'm not sure whether I got a clear shot. I ended up chasing it down and killing it, because I can't afford to have something that dangerous crawling into my tent or my other possessions.
So that's the update for now. Gonna turn the phone back off and let it recharge some more now.
It took forever on a knee that protested painfully and threatened to buckle at several points, but I finally made it to the old Army Corps of Engineers campground at Exit 151.
Somewhere during the final few miles of the walk, the Oregon side of the Columbia River Gorge finally seemed to peter out, and I found myself walking that last stretch on perfectly flat road, with water to the left of me, flatlands to the right, and a big, beautiful sky above.
The portion of Exit 151 that curved toward the river also dipped and passed beneath the ubiquitous railroad track. The road quickly transitioned from paved to unpaved, and I walked into a wide-open area filled with sagebrush and scrub vegetation. Along the road were signs proclaiming the area a SAFETY ZONE: HUNTING PROHIBITED. No one was there, but another sign, reminding sturgeon anglers that keeping sturgeon was also prohibited, indicated that this was a place for fishin' folk. Later in the evening a few pickups drove tentatively toward my spot, then turned around.
I spotted a decent campsite (nothing is marked as such, but my map lists this as a public campground) and went to it. Aching from the day, I creakily set about the task of putting up the new Big Agnes tent. It took a while; the soil here is rocky, making it difficult to find a soft "fontanelle" into which to drive a tent spike (I hope I didn't just scare off any new mothers).
I had marvelled, early on, at how few critters were about, but once the sun had sunk below the horizon, the beasties made themselves known. Luckily, my REI-bought Jungle Juice and AfterBite were enough to handle the situation.
Aside from setting up the tent, my other major task was to see whether my filtration system would work. I gathered the various items and lined them up:
1. A gallon jug for collecting river water, later fitted with a rinsed antibacterial wipe that would be elastic-banded over the jug's mouth, folded to create a double layer, to serve as the first filter.
2. A 1-liter soda bottle fitted with cotton balls and another double-layer of antibacterial wipe material (rinsed to remove the alcohol flavor); the first major filter in the process, and one that would use two types of filtration (cotton plus fiber sheet).
3. A Brita pitcher that would, I hoped, strain out over 90% of the remaining impurities before passing on to the final stage:
4. A Katadyn pump filter that would deliver the coup de grâce (pronounced "grahss," not "graah," by the way) to whatever microorganisms might be left over. The pump houses a carbon filter cartridge similar to the Brita's; it also has a filter on the tube attachment that goes into the unfiltered water. In essence, the river water would be passing through five filters.
To make an already-long story short: I went to the water, fetched a little over a liter of it from the shallows (I would have had to wade into the water to be able to dunk and fill the jug completely), brought my catch back to the campsite, and put it through the filtration process.
Result: very drinkable water. Everything seems to have worked perfectly, although the Brita cartidge needed another rinse-through before it stopped producing black water. Brita cartidges aren't really designed for the bumping and shifting that come with being strapped to a backpack; this, I can tell, is an issue that merits a long-term solution.
The water must really be all right: I drank a half-liter about an hour ago and am in my tent-- no barfing, cramps, or projectile diarrhea, which is a very good thing. We'll see how I am in the morning.
I plan to spend another night here to give my poor, beleaguered knee a chance to rest, and then I schlep onward to Boardman, where I may have a choice between motels and a campground.
Friday, August 22, 2008
Thursday, August 21, 2008
I move on tomorrow, whether or not the knee's ready. Commenters and emailers have, with increasing frequency, been asking me whether I might switch to biking or some other way of crossing the country if my knee gets too bad. I'll think about it; if this walk has taught me nothing else, it's "Never say never." I suppose changing the name to "Kevin's Roll" is better than changing it to "Kevin's Gimp."
I'll be hiking to a campground by Exit 151, and will stay there a night or two. From there, I'll move on to Boardman (Exit 164), where a campground lies about 13 or so miles from the Exit 151 camp. Here, too, it'll be one or two nights; I'll likely purchase my painkillers while there.
Boardman puts me at about two days' walk to Umatilla, nearly 24 miles away (I'm not sure I should try 24 miles in a single day). Once in Umatilla, CS host Amanda and her hubby will take me in for a night or more (if Amanda's mother-in-law has anything to say about the situation, it'll be "or more": the MIL apparently wants to meet me).
Walking from Umatilla to Walla Walla puts me first on Route 730, then on Route 12. After Umatilla, I'll spend a night at Hat Rock State Park, after which I'll be passing through the Washingtonian towns of Fort Kelley, Wallula Junction, Reese, Touchet, Lowden, and finally Walla Walla. If anyone knows of places to stay or camp along that route, please tell me.
This interesting article talks a bit about research that might imply that dogs have developed a rudimentary sense of morality over the millennia of their interaction with humans. One of the more intriguing facts mentioned in the piece is that, as dogs evolved from wolves, their brains shrank. Did their insertion into a lower rung of the human dominance hierarchy produce a submissiveness that eventually resulted in such shrinkage? The article doesn't say.
Dog owners often see their pets as possessors of distinct personalities (I'd agree), and would probably claim that their pets also possess discernibly moral traits such as kindness, empathy, and even altruism. You hear stories, now and again, about dogs that have saved their owners at great risk to themselves. Whether the sum total of these anecdotes constitutes evidence of canine morality is debatable, but at the very least worthy of scrutiny.
Calling Dr. Pinker...
"Where ya' headed?" is the most common question I get when accosted by strangers on the road. They see the backpack and trekking pole, and immediately realize that this burly, blubbery guy is Doing Something Important. I've finally trained myself to answer "The east coast!" whenever I hear this question; for the longest time, I'd been saying "DC" or "Alexandria," even though I don't yet know what my eventual destination will be; I only know that the walk will end when I reach the Atlantic.
Whenever I hit a campsite or motel, however, it's a different story: no one has any questions for me after I shed the backpack and start to stroll around town. Deprived of my portable shelter, I return to Joe Normalcy and reenter the realm of the incurious, which goes to show that this whole notion of "projecting an aura" is bogus: I obviously don't wear my 400 miles on my sleeve.
The backpack, my faithful Gregory brand (my previous pack was also a Gregory, and it was nice to see my brand loyalty vindicated by the likes of hiking guru Colin Fletcher, who swears by the brand), is the largest size available; when it's on my back, it's impossible to ignore. This is also true at the olfactory level, too; after all the sweat I've oozed into the harness, it's a very stinky piece of equipment.
It's strange to think about how our clothing and accessories affect others' perceptions of us; our external traits often announce what place we occupy in society. These traits would include hairstyles, jewelry, tattoos, and other indicators of who we are. A backpack and trekking pole scream "traveler!" to the world-- very different from shambling about in a pile of sweat- and urine-smelling rags, despite the often-distressing similarity in smell between the traveler and the homeless person. In Korea, when you see an older gent wearing a traditional white hanbok and sporting a beard, you'd be justified in guessing that he's an artist; most modern Korean men are clean-shaven, but the artist's beard functions almost like an emblem of his trade. In the US, who can blame you for looking at a kid who dresses in Goth style and surmising that this person is probably a mixed bag of gloomy narcissism and death-obsession?
So even though we Westerners are told not to judge a book by its cover, the fact is that the cover is often-- very often-- a faithful reflection of the content, despite not being the whole story.
Confucianism got a bad rap (mainly from Taoists) for supposedly placing too much emphasis on externals, but this sort of pompous superficiality wasn't what Confucius was after. For Confucius, it wasn't important to "keep up appearances"; instead, it was important to make sure that one's inner and outer realities were working in concert. In the West, we're familiar with this concept of inside-outside harmony: we call such a state integrity.
What integrity means will depend on the culture. Koreans and Americans might agree that an honest person shows her honesty through her words and actions; they might, however, disagree over the idea that "a teacher should always look the part of a teacher"-- something many Koreans strongly believe but many Americans reject, which is why a lineup of young Korean and young American university profs will look so wildly different.
Sci-fi author Barbara Hambly once formulated an interesting maxim in one of her novels: "Be what you wish to seem." This was one of Hambly's more coherent turns of phrase (I'm not a big fan of hers), and it's stayed with me for years, perhaps because it's such a concise and profound formulation of what integrity boils down to.*
Unfortunately, both "guilt" and "shame" cultures** have gravitated toward the "keeping up appearances" end of the spectrum; in politics and religion, for example, tearful repentance is only for those who get caught in the act. Look at American televangelist Jimmy Swaggart and Korean scientist Hwang Woo-seok.
Ancient cultures often linked human integrity to the natural order, something of an extension of the anthropocentric "inner/outer harmony" concept. Hindus took sacrifice very seriously as a means of world-maintenance, for example; human rituals (and the proper state of mind while performing them) helped keep dharma from slipping into adharma. The ancient Chinese believed there existed an intimate connection between the integrity of a ruler and the will of Heaven. Even the Western notion of the "divine right" of monarchy has echoes of this linkage of the human and natural/cosmic/supernatural realms. Many stories in the Hebrew scriptures associate natural disasters with human sin-- a concept that persists to this day.***
The human brain is adept at finding patterns, and will gladly create patterns when none are to be found. The brain is also a massively parallel processor with an amazing capacity for finding and creating numerous types of associations, from sensory to thematic to abstract. All this means the brain is great at thinking analogically, which is one reason why people see similarities and/or connections between, say, one's inner and outer existence, or between the human and natural worlds.
And this is probably why people latch onto externals and makes guesses about others' internal reality: you see a guy with a huge backpack and guess that he's on a long, long journey. The problem, though, is that we have no such thoughts about the guy when he sheds the backpack and becomes Joe Normal. It's possible, then, to judge a book by its cover, but not always advisable.
I apologize that this essay has ended with such a mundane, trivial, obvious conclusion, but hey-- I never claimed to be deep.
*If someone told you not to end sentences with prepositions, they were feeding you a load of bullshit. Ancient grammar and style manuals from the 1950s and 60s might deem such a move verboten, but it's kosher in modern North American English, even at the most formal level. Consider what in linguistics is called the petrified expression-- a turn of phrase that has evolved into an unalterable chunk of verbiage. A good example is the phrasal verb "[to] put up with," which bizarrely features two prepositions, and whose elements must always be written in their original sequence. You would have to say:
This isn't something I can put up with.
This isn't something up with which I can put.
...which is simply wrong.
Because "put up with" is a petrified expression, it can't be broken up into something supposedly more proper; "...up with which I can put." Sorry, but the "up with" stays at the end of the sentence.
Quite a few antiquated ideas about proper English circulate as memes in cyberspace and meatspace. Consider the "never split an infinitive" rule, which held sway in my father's generation, but which most modern grammar and style manuals will note is no longer the cardinal sin it once was. While I personally try to avoid splitting infinitives for esthetic reasons, I won't stifle your desire to boldly go where no one has gone before.
**While a simplistic way to categorize cultures, the basic idea is that "guilt" cultures see ethics in terms of personal conscience, whereas "shame" cultures are more concerned about one's status in the eyes of others. One feels shame in front of one's peers or betters; one feels guilt even when alone, and often without regard to how others view one. There are those who characterize the modern West as largely a guilt culture, whereas many Asian and Middle Eastern countries are shame cultures.
How true or clear this distinction is is open to debate, especially when we consider how diverse and complex modern Western cultures are. After all, many people who immigrate to the West come from shame cultures and don't fully assimilate into their new home. This certainly changes the tenor of whatever guilt culture exists in the larger society, and makes it increasingly difficult to claim that "the West is a guilt culture." At best we can say, as I said before, that it's largely a guilt culture.
***This is a rich topic for discussion, as we have reached a point in our history where human activity is now the focal point of a heated debate about major changes in the environment. While I have strong opinions on this topic, I won't air them in this post.
Wednesday, August 20, 2008
So I visited the clinic today. The visit was brief; the upshot was that, without having an expensive MRI procedure done, the best guess is that something might be going on with a tendon-- possibly a tear, possibly not. The doc wrote me a prescription for ibuprofen, which I'll be able to purchase when I get to Boardman. She also recommended that I continue wearing the knee brace; I heartily agree.
Later in the day, my replacement tent arrived. Unlike my replacement BlackBerry, this Big Agnes tent is spanking new, not a refurbished model. As you saw in the previous picture, I set the tent up, counted the parts, played with the zippers, and checked all seams. Everything seems A-OK. Again, my thanks to Dad and to the intrepid folks at REI. You rock.
I leave Arlington on Friday, and will be walking about 14 or 15 miles to an old Army Corps of Engineers campground at Exit 151. I'll camp there for a night or two, perhaps testing out the water treatment system I've got, before moving on. Here's hoping the knee holds up.
My father tells me the new tent and footprint will be arriving on
Thursday Wednesday morning. I'm tempted to give you guys the FedEx tracking number so we can all watch its progress together.
My visit to the clinic happens tomorrow at 11:15AM; the Tuesday walk-in ended simply with the scheduling of the appointment and my filling out of several medical forms. Because I'm uninsured, payment will have to be in cash: $40 for the basics, plus whatever the cost of medication will be. Not a bad deal, I figure.
I've started drawing up my Rockies list. Many of the items on the list aren't directly related to my survival, but do have something to do with other aspects of the walk.
And that's it for now, all. I'm here until Friday.
Tuesday, August 19, 2008
When I strolled into Ace Hardware today, I met Marta (pictured in the previous post). She guided me to the items I wanted to buy and rang everything up, but after I told her what I was doing in town, she very nicely refunded my money and gave me a nifty "Arlington, Oregon" tee shirt-- all "for the cause," as she put it.
You never know what kindnesses may come your way.
1. I'm going to lumber over to the medical clinic in the next few minutes. It'll be interesting to hear what the doc has to say. (I imagine it'll be, "No more walking for you! Ha ha!")
2. I need to wrap up and bury the corpse of my poor tent, though I'll be saving the stakes as extras (because Oregon has vampires). I wouldn't mind also saving the Y-shaped tent spine, but it was slightly bent out of shape during yesterday's attack of the air elementals.
3. I hadn't done laundry before leaving the motel last time, so after I checked myself into the motel again yesterday, I hand-washed my clothes in the motel room sink. The sink was too small for all the clothes to go in at once, so I did the washing in groups. When I did the group that contained my long pants, the sink water turned dark brown. It took me a few moments to realize how dusty the pants must have been after so much exposure to sand, dirt, and wind: even though I'd spent only one night at the campground, I'd visited it several times (which has also allowed me to rack up my "make-up miles" for the police car ride; 5 out of 8 miles made up thus far).
4. I have to draw up a list of items I'll need once I start crossing the Rockies with Dad's help as a chase car driver. I spoke with Dad about two things in particular-- my old voice recorder (which creates immediately readable sound files, unlike my current recorder) and my BlackBerry travel charger, which plugs into a car's dashboard. I need to see about having some business cards printed up, and might want to order one or two of my own CafePress tee shirts for use as a flag of sorts-- something I can tie to my backpack.
5. Speaking of recordings, I might start a series of video podcasts. I won't be able to upload the files to YouTube except when I have access to a real computer, which means that updates will happen irregularly, but something is better than nothing, methinks. The videos might give the blog a more human face, and you, the blog reader, would gain a clearer impression of things like the amazing wind in the Columbia River Gorge.
6. THIS JUST IN: It seems I'm going to get my tent replaced FOR FREE by REI! My father just called (12:25PM) with the happy news. He explained my situation to the REI folks and pointed them to my blog entry; they said I'd have to mail the old tent back to get the replacement. They can't replace the footprint since I don't have it, but this still saves me around $250. All thanks and praise to my folks and to REI! Now here's hoping I don't mangle the replacement. I doubt that even REI would show the same mercy twice.
7. I'm also going to buy a few extra bungee cords from the local hardware store; the Brita pitcher I bought is going to have to hang outside the pack, so its moving parts need to be strapped down. The pitcher is essentially a hollow piece of molded plastic, and I'm worried that it might get cracked or crushed if I packed it inside the backpack. The Katadyn pump is tough and compact, so putting it in the pack is no problem, and it goes without saying that the soda bottle, cotton balls, and rubber bands can be stuffed into the pack with little concern for their safety.
So I've got a lot to do today:
-mail off the old tent
-visit the clinic
-buy extra bungee cords
-record a video or two
-write up a "Rockies" list
Good thing the clinic, post office, and hardware store are all next to the motel!
My folks will be expediting me a new tent, and I'll be sitting tight at this motel again until the tent arrives and, we hope, the knee improves. The lady who runs the motel suggested that I hit the medical center next door; she said that the lady who runs the center charges according to one's means. As I'm currently unemployed, this might mean my visit will be very cheap. "She doesn't have an X-ray or anything," the motel manager told me, "but she's really good at what she does."
So I'll be visiting the center in the morning, and my tent ought to arrive on Wednesday. Apologies to CouchSurfer Amanda in Umatilla, who might be forgiven for giving up on me, but who has shown a great deal of patience and forbearance as my projected arrival date keeps changing.
Monday, August 18, 2008
You saw the photo I took this morning of myself, face flapping fleshily in the wind like a basset hound in a speeding pickup truck. You may also have seen the pic right before it, the one of my tent flapping just as crazily in that same wind.
Well... guess what happened.
I had weighted the tent down with six or seven rocks (you might have seen some of them in the tent photo), and had left a small pile of possessions inside the tent to keep it from misbehaving. Arrangements made, I collected the items I was going to mail back to Virginia and limped over to the Arlington post office, painfully conscious of my unwashed state and inwardly sorry to whichever staffer would have to deal with me.
I mailed the items off, thereby shedding another couple pounds, and limped back across the tracks to the campsite. As I was walking up a gravel incline, I saw that another camper had established some sort of tall, wigwam-like tent down near the water on the leeward side of the finger of land on which I was camped. "Smart move," I thought to myself. Then I reached my own campsite, and...
The tent was gone.
The only thing left was my backpack, which was giving me a distinct "Hey, don't look at me," vibe.
I stood there a moment, staring in shock at the rocky space my tent had so recently occupied. Perhaps because I had passed some loiterers and wasn't ready to take responsibility for my own stupidity, I was set to blame others for my plight. It was easier to think that someone had stolen my tent and its contents, or had ripped it out of the ground for a laugh, than to believe that I hadn't secured it as well as I could have.
I snapped out of it, though; my walk thus far has been thief-free, and why on earth would someone steal a used tent in broad daylight, anyway? So my brain switched into CSI mode, and I began my survey of the disaster area, intent on recovering as much of my equipment as I could.
I found most of my tent stakes right away, and recovered all my bungee cords. At that point I noticed that the debris trail was leading back down the gravel incline, toward the marina... right where I had seen that other camper's tent. Except now I knew: that wasn't some other camper's wigwam-- it was MY BIG AGNES! (Big Agnes is the brand name.)
I shambled over to the tent and immediately saw that the fly had been torn to shreds, flayed alive like a heretic in medieval Europe. No amount of repair tape was going to patch up all those tiny holes; the tent had obviously been dragged across the ground, propelled by the wind and weighted down by the objects inside it. I looked around for the tent's footprint (what in the old days would have been called a groundcloth or groundsheet), but it was nowhere to be found. The tent's main body looked better than all the other soft parts, but scratches and tears were visible through the dust and dirt. Everything inside the tent was dirty and a bit banged up, but otherwise fine.
Slowly and deliberately, I crawled among the boulders at the water's edge, pulling in the tent fabric, collapsing the Y-shaped ridge pole (it had suffered some bending, too), organizing my dusty possessions, and thinking about what to do next.
I had already been thinking about camping an extra day; my knee is still too painful to walk on. Now that my beloved tent is dead (it was a gift from my family; longtime readers will recall that it replaced a much heavier and bulkier tarp), I'll need to get a new one.
So the current plan is to remain in Arlington and have a new tent, plus footprint, rushed to me ASAP. If I can, I hope to order only the parts I need. I still have enough stakes to function well, and the main body of the tent looks, on superficial inspection, reparable. So: I need a new tent fly and a new footprint. If I can't purchase parts, I'll have to buy an entire tent, which will set me back about $300 plus rush shipping.
You have no idea how embarrassing and infuriating this is. I knew I was in a windy spot and had just survived an extremely windy night just fine. It was only when I left things unattended that matters got out of hand. The moral of this story: When you think you've stuck on enough weight to keep your tent from flying away in strong wind, stick on at least twice as much.
It's too early to check back into the motel, so I'm frittering away my time and battery power at a picnic table in a park that's away from the water-- and, therefore, away from the worst of the wind.
I can note one positive thing, though: word of my journey has gotten around. As I was walking dejectedly back toward the motel, a trucker named Joe stopped his rig and handed me seven dollars' cash. He'd heard about my walk and wanted to help out by giving me money for a meal. I'm guessing he'd heard about me from either the motel manager or the gentleman I'd met at the RV park a few days ago. Joe wished me good luck; we shook hands, and then he went on his way. Thanks, man.
What kills me is that none of this would have happened had I stayed on that green patch of ground. I went windward because I thought I had no choice: sprinklers, remember? Although that gravelly area is large enough to hold two hundred tents (trucks often park there), most of that surface is covered in rocks too large and sharp to be safe for a tent. That's why I went to the water's edge and risked the wind-- although, come to think of it, it wasn't windy when I first got to that spot. The campsite I chose had a tent-friendly surface of sand and gravel. Little did I know just how hard the winds blow here.
Live and learn. And lose money.
The wind's still blowing this morning, but we did have about a two-hour lull that started a little after midnight. Unable to sleep, I left my tent around 3:30AM to head for the restroom (this is "dry" camping, whatever that means, not primitive camping; we've got restrooms). As I passed the lovely patch of ground on which I'd originally pitched my tent, I had a sudden thought, and checked for nighttime sprinkler action.
Nothing. Not a sound.
I went over to the grass and ran my fingers through a length of it, thinking the sprinklers might already have turned off.
Nothing. No moisture.
Son of a bitch.
Ever since the sun began its slow, ponderous squat behind the western mountains this evening, it's been windy. Very windy. I left the tent an hour or so after having taken that picture of my sweaty self, and discovered that it had gotten cooler outside than inside. I was drenched in sweat when I left the tent, but within minutes of exiting that cocoon, the wind had blown me dry.
I limped (yes, I limp pretty much everywhere now) to the gas station and greeted the dour attendant, an obese thirtysomething who, in the four or five times I've talked to him, has never once said a positive thing.
"How's it going?"
"How're you doing?"
"Waitin' for the end of my shift."
"OK, man-- take care."
"Heh. I'll try."
To his credit, the guy doesn't transfer whatever bitterness he harbors in his soul to his customers. Aside from his Eyore-ish greetings and goodbyes, he's perfectly polite, though I'm not sure I'd go as far as to call him friendly.
I bought water and some djunque foude, limped back to my campsite, and had fun just sitting cross-legged on a large rock and facing into the wind.
It was as if Mother Nature were trying to make up for the miserable day she had put us through. The wind (which is still battering my tent as I type this entry) blew out of infinite lungs, playful and gusty, unswervingly from the west, doing its damnedest to uproot my tent but failing thanks to the rocks holding down my tent stakes. It was an amazing finish to an otherwise rough day.
Maybe not a finish: it's still noisy in here, and my tent seems to be reenacting moments from "The Blair Witch Project." But the tent's design is good: for all that flapping, the air in here is quite calm. I won't mind sleeping in all this racket. Not at all. I just hope the wind doesn't grow strong enough to tug the stakes out of the grip of my rocks. Not a big problem if it happens: if the stakes are uprooted, the tent is still weighted down by the biggest stone of all.
Yesterday we had a gorgeous full moon; tonight's moon is incarnadine, like a vampire's baleful, hungry stare. On a night like this, it's easy to imagine a small fleet of cursed ships, chock full of the undead, sailing upriver against this wind, intent on some fell mission. I wanted to take a picture of tonight's moon, but try as I might, the BlackBerry's not up to the task, so you'll just have to imagine it.
Sleep well, all.
Ah, this wind. This amazing wind.
Sunday, August 17, 2008
You'd think the sun would be at its hottest around noon, and you'd be wrong. Things really start to cook from early to mid-afternoon, especially in these parts. In the summertime, in the higher latitudes, the sun doesn't peak until well after noon. By 5PM, the ground has been thoroughly roasted, so a person lying on the ground inside a tent is catching heat quite literally from all sides, despite the refreshing river breeze and the ThermaRest foam pad beneath him.
Afternoon temps shot up ten degrees from my previous report, from 97 to 107. Re-setting my tent was a chore; I should have taken commenter Richardson's advice and covered those sprinklers with rocks. The soil at the new site is very sandy; tent stakes wouldn't stay in the ground, so I had to weigh the lines down with large stones, of which there was, luckily, no shortage. The poncho took a while to figure out; I tried several clever arrangements only to discover that they weren't so clever. What you see in the previous photo is brought to you courtesy of my bungee cords.
It's definitely cooler inside the tent than outside it, especially when a decent breeze manages to slip an air-tendril under the tent fly, but the tent is designed to withstand thunderstorms and harsh gusts, so whatever comes into the tent has already been drained of most of its kinetic energy (recall my experience at the Celilo campground).
The end result is that the tent is a 90-something-degree sweatbox, and my head (not to mention the rest of my body) is releasing perspiration faster than I can drink it in from the Camelbak.
Tomorrow, I'll be leaving a bit late, as I'll be sending more unnecessaries home via the Arlington post office, which opens at 9AM. Tonight, I'll hit one of the gas. stations for water, ice cubes (they'll be mostly melted by morning, but still quite cold), drinks, and PowerAde, which I like better than Gatorade.
My solar charger is sitting on a nearby rock, charging for its third day. I've decided to try to charge it for as long as possible before using it with the BlackBerry; if an entire day's charging produces only a few minutes' battery life, then I probably need to charge for at least a week, don't I?
All of this is enough to convince me I could never pull a Thoreau and lead a near-primitive existence for two years. I like modernity too much and see little reason for humanity to regress, even when on vacation. Want to clear your head of modern noise? Go meditate! You can do it anywhere! This isn't to say that I can't live in isolation; I can do that just fine. If you put me in a cave that had the plush amenities of a high-end apartment (library, fast computer with blazing Internet connection, a well-equipped kitchen, an adequate bedroom, and a well-designed bathroom), I'd do just fine for two years. Just don't expect me to feel the same bliss inside a drafty cabin with only my latrine bacteria for company.
Damn, it's hot.
not much else I could do with such sandy soil, so go ahead and laugh (the poncho does provide shade, though)
According to Weather.com, it's only about 95 in Arlington right now, which is the reason why it almost feels cool here in the shade.
I checked out at 11AM, walked down to the campground, and set up camp by noon. It's "dry camping" here, whatever that means. What it means for my wallet is $9 for tonight, but that's a pittance; I'm happy to pay it. This isn't one of those state park campgrounds that let you pay by credit card, though, so I'm about to walk back into town, have some lunch, pay in cash, and come back to the campground with $9 even.
Meantime, I'm a bit worried about the possibility that I've set up camp next to a sprinkler. I'm about four feet away from it, which means the items inside my tent have nothing to fear, but all the same I'd rather not deal with soggy soil and an unnecessarily drenched tent fly.
I'm camped at this spot because none of the dry camping spots are clearly marked out. There's a large area by the river's edge that offers plenty of room (and pebbly ground) for tents; I avoided all that in favor of this very soft patch of grass, which comes with its own picnic table and shade trees (so no, I haven't set up the poncho). The only problem is that sprinkler. Is it a sprinkler? Oy.
Right-- off to lunchie. Meantime, congrats to Michael Phelps for making history. Eight gold medals in a single Olympics! I imagine the Chinese don't particularly care (living in foreign countries gives you a true taste of how parochial the news coverage can be), but it's a proud moment for us Yanks.
It's going to be 109 degrees in Arlington today, just like yesterday, but I'm checking out of this motel and moving over to the RV park-cum-campground by the river. Once there, I'll see about setting up some poncho shade and photographing the respectable (or laughable) results of my efforts. On Monday morning, I'll mail off a pound or two of extra weight before heading off to the old Army Corps of Engineers campground near Exit 151. I'm morbidly curious as to how my knee will hold up during that walk, which will be at least 14 miles.
I bought some items to help out with water filtration and purification: a ginger ale bottle plus cotton balls, and a Brita water pitcher. The idea is to turn filtration into a three-step process.
First step: cut the bottom off the ginger ale bottle, stuff cotton into the bottleneck, close off the spout with fabric that's been elastic-banded into place, and run "dirty" water through the cut-off bottom. The idea here is to strain out most of the "macro"-scale problems, things that make river water cloudy, like mud/sand and algae. Most campsite purification and filtration systems come with disclaimers saying they work best with water that's already fairly clear, which means that, if they claim to strain out or kill 99.9999% of all dangerous microorganisms, you have to be a bit wary. I'm not a dainty guy, mind you: I'll drink water straight from the source if it comes to that, but would rather avoid the possibility of hiking a fifteen-mile stretch with diarrhea running down my legs.
Second step: the Brita pitcher. I've relied on Brita before and trust the brand, because Brita filters do a very good job of removing strange flavors and odors from tap water. The ability to deal with chemical issues is a big plus, in my opinion. The Brita will strain out most of whatever's left after the initial filtration, but might not catch all the microorganisms, which leads to our...
Third step: the Katadyn water pump filter. This is the hand pump I bought back in Portland. CouchSurfing host and REI guru Rico had recommended one of those ultraviolet lights that you place in a bottle of water, but I ultimately decided against it for two reasons: (1) online customer reviews were very mixed, with many folks noting that the light tended to crap out after only a few uses, or that it seemed weaker than expected (in fairness, I never saw a review that said, "I got sick after using the UV sterilizer"); and (2) the UV light's only function is to blast anything living, not to filter out all the critters and grit. So I opted for the Katadyn pump.
Anyway, it's time to get a move on. I had hoped to do laundry last night, but fell asleep. I want to do it this morning before 11AM checkout, but I'm friendly with the motel staffers and can probably get away with moving to the campground first and then coming back to the motel to use their machines. So there's no rush.
I haven't made an exact count of it, but in looking up the length of I-5 inside the state of Washington, I got a figure of 278 miles from one online source. While I roughly followed I-5 while walking south from Blaine, I zigzagged quite a bit, meaning the actual distance walked was almost certainly over 280 miles. In following I-84 from Portland to where I am now in Arlington, Oregon, I've gone at least another 137 miles if we calculate mileage by exit numbers. Subtract 8 miles for the courtesy ride in the police car, and the total figure's somewhere over 400 miles.
Perhaps because there have been so many fewer CouchSurfing homes and religious establishments along this "post-Portlandic" part of the walk, I feel I've really been earning my pay (er, so to speak). I look forward to the cool relief that fall will bring, though I do remember the cold and wetness of some early parts of my walk through Washington, and don't look forward to the return of that unpleasant combination.
So: somewhere in recent days, I passed the 400-mile mark. I don't suppose that that's cause for celebration; let's talk again when I hit 1000 miles! In the meantime, 400 is a nice, round number. Not worth a party, but I'll give myself a Homer Simpsonian "woo-hoo!"