Saturday, July 26, 2008

a little souvenir from my walk across the Bridge of the Gods

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what happens now?

Today, I'm checking out of the Cascade Motel (which I highly recommend to travelers), but cannot move down the street to the KOA campsite, which is booked solid through today. I was told, however, that I could "have [my] pick" of tent sites tomorrow (Sunday).

So the plan is either to walk up the street to stay one extra night in a different motel, or to walk over to the RV campsite (where I took the Canada geese pics yesterday) and see if I can stay there one night. I wouldn't mind simply extending my stay here at the Cascade Motel an extra night, but if I'm not mistaken, this unit is spoken for, so I have to vacate the premises.

I'm staying in Cascade Locks an extra couple of days because there's a good chance I'll be interviewed by the local press, and I might be interviewing at least two people here. Along with that, I've got some trip planning to do, as I've found a map that provides info on some stops that might shorten the length of some of my upcoming hikes.

More later, once I'm settled in again.


Friday, July 25, 2008

acrophobia and cathexis

If I remember my M. Scott Peck correctly, cathexis is a term used in psychology to refer to the extension of one's ego-boundaries toward and around something outside oneself. Example: when a guy cathects his favorite football team, their triumphs and disappointments become his triumphs and disappointments, even though the team has no idea the guy exists. Cathexis is therefore often one-sided, as it can happen not only in dude-team situations, but also in dude-inanimate object situations.

With all that in mind, I confess that I've probably cathected my BlackBerry, and have cathected various other pieces of Walk-related equipment. This state of affairs was brought home to me today when, while my laundry was perking, I decided to take a stroll across the Bridge of the Gods.

The bridge is located a few dozen yards uphill from the laundromat; vehicles entering and exiting on the Oregon side must pay a toll. Pedestrians, as the grandmotherly lady at the toll booth informed me, may cross the bridge for free.

Not having read anything more than Alan Cook's comment (appended to a previous post) about the history of the bridge, I simply started across, my eyes sweeping the bridge for some sign of a pedestrian lane. Seeing none, I shrugged and moved onto the span.

Are you the kind of person who never watches his/her feet when walking? Long years of bad luck have made me the sort of person who watches where he's going; the moment I stop doing so, I'm sure to step on a stone or partway into a pothole (this may, in fact, have contributed to my fall back in Washington). Were I to look up while descending a staircase, I'd be Gerald Fording every time.

So I was looking down when I started across, and after a few yards I stopped cold, because what I saw froze my heart in my chest: the grating under my feet allowed a full view of the bridge's underlying structure and the Columbia River. Yikes.

It was years ago that I discovered I had a thing about heights. One summer when I was in high school, I worked construction. It was very educational, and the gentleman who hired me, a man from our church, paid me very well by 1980s standards: 20 dollars an hour.

But I spent only two weeks on the job because I learned I was a zero at construction. Three incidents motivated me to quit: first, I forgot to lock the wheels on a rolling scaffold, and the thing slipped out from under me while I was working on a joist. The scaffold rolled toward the rectangular hole in the floor that was to become the head of a set of stairs (I was at attic level); it fell sideways into the hole and stuck there, while I hung stupidly from the joist, watching the disaster unfold.

Second, while outside the house, I was asked to carry a bucket of nails up to some guys on the second floor. To do this, I had to use a long ladder that was leaning against the side of the house. As I climbed, I could feel the ladder shaking beneath me, and I was gripped by the conviction that I and the ladder were going to pitch sideways. I'll never forget how much that ladder shook.

Lastly-- and this was the straw that broke the camel's back-- I was on the roof laying out roofing paper, laying chalk lines, and hammering nails into the chalk lines to fasten the paper to the roof.

Laying out the roofing paper was easy and didn't even require standing (or maybe it does require standing, but no one ever told me otherwise). You simply sit on one side of the roof with your huge, heavy roll of black roofing paper, then bowl it across the roof so that it covers a strip of the roof as it unrolls. After you've done one strip, you shift to an uncovered portion and repeat the process with another roll of paper.

Creating the chalk lines did require standing, which is when it finally began to dawn on me that I might have a serious thing about heights. The device that makes the chalk line looks like one of those heavy metal tape measures. Once you determine where the underlying joists are, you hook the chalk line to the edge of the roof, move to the roof's peak while making sure the chalk line is exactly over the joist, then you snap the line, which is covered in chalk. If you've done your job right, you've just given yourself a reliable guide that'll help you drive your nails in a straight line, securing the roofing paper to the joist below (the joist generally isn't visible because the roof is usually covered, at that point in the construction process, by large rectangles of plywood).

I managed to snap a chalk line correctly, but it was when I began to hammer the nails into the roof that I knew this was my last day on the job. I had worn all the wrong clothing for construction (wrong clothing seems to be a recurrent theme in my life): I had on my New Balance running shoes and a pair of sweatpants, much like the heavy cotton things I just sent home. Bad move: neither my shoes nor my pants allowed me a firm purchase on the smooth roofing paper, so each blow of my hammer sent me inch by inch toward the roof's edge. I had started hammering from the very top of the chalk line, but as I drove successive nails closer to the roof's edge, I felt I was going to fall off. I can't remember whether I finished all the chalk lines or not; I suspect I quit early that day. I do remember apologizing to Mr. Lowdermilk for being a poor worker; he took the whole thing with good humor and paid me fairly for my work. Maybe "work" should be in scare quotes. Frequent commenter Max Watson is right: I'm a wuss.

So that's how I discovered that high places and I generally don't get along. That fear was brought back to me today as I realized that only a thin gridwork of rusty metal lay between me and a long plunge to the river below. The blowing wind, a near-constant feature of the Gorge when you're near the river's edge, wasn't helping matters.

My fear was irrational, of course: cars were rolling placidly back and forth across the bridge, a testament to its trustworthiness.* I also found that, as long as I didn't look down, the bridge appeared solid, and I was much calmer as a result.

While walking from the Oregon side to the Washington side, I pondered taking a downward-pointing photo with my BlackBerry, a thought that sent a new thrill of fear through me. This is where cathexis played its role today, for I couldn't help feeling that, if the BlackBerry slipped from my fingers and fell into the river (the gaps in the bridge's surface could easily allow the BlackBerry through), this would be like me slipping through the bridge's surface and into the river.

It wasn't until I'd forced myself across to the Washington side that I decided to take the BlackBerry out and get it ready to take pictures during the return trip to Oregon and my laundry. I snapped a pic of the bridge's entrance from the Washington side, then started back across, keeping my eyes up until I was far enough to be over the river. Cars in the oncoming lane passed me with polite, deliberate slowness; I began to wonder how many pedestrians crossed this bridge each day. Once I reached a decent spot, I steeled myself, looked down, aimed the BlackBerry at the grid, and snapped the photo you saw in a previous post.

While I'm perversely proud to have crossed the Bridge of the Gods twice on foot, I admit it's not an experience I'd care to repeat. However irrational it was, the fear was real.

One final note: never having been to a therapist, I haven't been officially diagnosed with acrophobia (come to think of it, I'd also like to be tested for dyslexia). I do know that I'm OK with heights when I'm on soaring balconies, bridges with high railings, and mountain paths and overlooks with safety features like handholds and such. I've been up Seoul's Bukhan Mountain a few times, and that's a place that might scare a severe acrophobe. I mention all this in anticipation of questions like, "If you're so afraid of heights, why are you doing this walk? Didn't you realize you'd be dealing with heights?" I have a problem with heights, yes, but in general, if I feel that security is within arm's reach, I'm OK. A staircase can be a thousand feet tall, but if it's firm and has high railings, I can climb it. By contrast, I can't see myself tackling an obstacle like the US Air Force Academy's Tiltin' Hilton. No, sir.

*There's an interesting philosophical discussion to be had here about the rationality of trusting something merely thanks to a history of trustworthiness. David Hume comes to mind as an empiricist philosopher who would hesitate to conclude the bridge was safe merely because of its track record (beware the pitfalls of inductive reasoning!). But as a pragmatist, he probably wouldn't have hesitated to use the bridge.


geese provide scale

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on the move

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no... human being could have made prints like that

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Cascade Locks at a glance

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...and this is why you DON'T LOOK DOWN while crossing the Bridge of the Gods

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Bridge of the Gods, Washington side

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more thoughts on the Wed-Thu hike

I still don't know how far I walked all Wednesday and early Thursday, but wouldn't be surprised to discover it was over twenty miles.

Back at Chanticleer Point, I met a Korean family that was doing a driving tour. We spoke almost entirely in Korean; I asked them what they were doing, and they asked me what about my walk and how I was dealing with blisters and such (my hiking shoes give me no more trouble, by the way; they appear finally to have been broken in). I haven't had blisters in a while, which is great. Even at the end of yesterday's long hike, nada.

Man, yesterday feels as though it happened a year ago. The first half of that hike was a lot of fun-- passing through downtown Troutdale and Corbett, stopping at the Chanticleer and Crown Point overlooks, enjoying the great weather and gorgeous scenery-- fun, indeed. But the second half of the journey, which involved descending to the water's level, feeling trapped on the Historic Highway, then finally reaching the freeway and walking along it, was a world of hurt.

Surprisingly, my knee held up pretty well through all of it. I was shuffling along at a little more than 2mph; during the night, I passed a number of sightseeing stopping points on the Historic Highway, the most memorable of which was Horsetail Falls, a waterfall that, unlike Multnomah, was immediately visible from the road, and did indeed look like a flowing horse's tail, ghostly gray at night.*

The Historic Highway played with my emotions until the very end, when it finally turned and plunged into I-84. Before the end of the highway, I passed the Ainsworth campground and seriously considered stopping there for the night, but some stubborn impulse kept me pushing onward toward the freeway.

In retrospect, I think stopping at Ainsworth would have been the better choice: reaching the freeway wasn't the solution to my problems. While it's true the freeway isn't as hilly as the Historic Highway, exits are few and far between. I was reassured by the freeway's broad shoulders, but walking along the freeway, even after 2AM, is a gritty, noisy business. All the trucks are out in force, headlights glaring, engines roaring, kicking up gusty, sandy wakes as they pass by.

The temptation to stop grew in force as time dragged on that night. I was walking eastward on the westbound side of the freeway, head bowed in anticipation of truck gusts, and frequently looking to my left, evaluating patches of grass and dirt for their camp-worthiness. I wondered whether I could get away with lying just behind a jersey barrier, out of sight of all drivers. In almost every instance, I decided against it.

Around 3:30AM, though, it had become too much and I knew I needed to stop. A leftward glance showed me I was near some sort of narrow road or bike path, separated from the freeway by a screen of vegetation that varied in thickness. I wearily stepped off the road and walked until I was behind a thick patch, then removed my pack and sat heavily down, doing Not Much of Anything until I felt I could move again. My fanny pack, which contains my toiletries and hangs off my neck when I'm hiking, frequently doubles as my pillow; I unrolled my foam pad (after realizing how cold the asphalt was; it was a very cool night), took out my windbreaker and my dad's poncho, then kicked back with my foldable, laminated map of Oregon to see what I had passed and where I was headed.

Earlier, I had looked across the interstate and, with the aid of my flashlight, seen the big green sign announcing that Cascade Locks was eight miles away.** When I looked at the map, I saw that the city's name was written in medium-sized print, i.e., this wasn't a one-horse town. A Google search of hotels in Cascade Locks revealed several, including a Best Western whose rooms were in the $110-$120 range-- too much if I planned to stay two nights.

Anyway, I was glad to see that Cascade Locks had what I was looking for. I decided to take a nap on the bike path, and I slept from about 4AM to 5:15AM. The sky was brightening and the stars were gone when I rolled up my poncho and foam pad, and creakily re-shouldered my backpack. The morning was still cool, so I kept my windbreaker on, though I eventually threw the hood back once my noggin began emitting too much heat.

And now comes the part of the narrative where some of you more delicate folks might want to turn away, because I'm about to discuss what it's like to poop en route without recourse to the accoutrements of civilized society.

I pooped twice during my walk-- once while on the Historic Highway, and once more on I-84, not long after waking up from my nap.

My first session occurred while I was at that parking lot described in a previous post, the one where all was dark and quiet except for the rude SUVer who drove into the lot, shined his headlights at me, and drove away.

The cover of darkness is bizarrely reassuring when you need to poop in the open, but it also prevents you from doing a proper finger-check to make sure you haven't sullied your digits during the wiping process. At the moment when I needed to go, I had a flashlight with me, and was able to find a spot well away from the road at which to do the evil deed.

I've never been a good squatter, so when I'm in the wild I require something to grip for balance, like a thin tree trunk or a low tree branch (in the squat toilet stalls in Korea, I normally brace my hands against the cubicle walls). Nature provided: I found myself near a tree with a low, dead, barkless branch-- the perfect handhold. After that, it was a matter of "dropping trou," as they say, and letting fly.

My greatest fear, whenever I squat-poop, is that I'll accidentally hit my pants. This is why, in Korean toilet stalls of the squat variety, I simply take my pants off. But out in the open here in America, pooping on public land with the possibility of being seen by any random driver, I thought it best to keep the clothing on in case I suddenly needed to button up. So in the end, I had to squat very carefully, using my handhold to help me lean back and provide Harry Enos with a clear shot of the ground. It worked. I wiped using the porta-pack of tissues I'd brought along (one of several such packs). A flashlight-aided finger check confirmed digital cleanliness, though I did see a glistening patch on my palm that turned out to be pine resin. I'm glad that's all it was.

But almost immediately after wiping, I was struck by the urge to poop again. I attribute this to the evening coolness; as much as I like cool weather, it often makes me want to dump. So I redid the whole stinky procedure, from squat-prep to finger-check, and managed once again to avoid hitting my pants.

That's when I realized I'd forgotten to dig a cathole, which is what you do in the wild when pooping. You dig the cathole, keep the dirt nearby, void into the hole, and replace the dirt on top of it.

I had a trowel buried somewhere in my backpack for just that purpose, but in my fatigue I didn't want to bother taking it out, so I used my shoe's heel to scuff out a cathole next to the landing site, then used some nearby sticks to maneuver my leavings (and tissue) into the hole and cover the whole thing up. I placed a few rocks atop the burial site to mark my, er, passing, then made my getaway not long after.

The second poop session was far worse, as it occurred around 6AM, i.e., in broad daylight-- and on the freeway, no less. I was somewhere between exits 40 and 41 when the intestinal urge struck again, strongly, making me wonder whether the gods were playing a sick joke on me.

I've been in similar straits before; my normal strategy is to stave off the horrible feeling of increasing pressure by counting breaths or by taking a random phrase and making it into a mantra that takes my mind off the impending cataclysm. But in every previous case, I had some idea how far off the nearest toilet was. On Thursday morning, I had no clue when, or even if, I would happen upon a place where I could crap in peace.

By 6AM, the freeway was a crowded place, with almost no carless intervals, and therefore no time to hop the barrier and disappear into the bushes. And in my case, loaded down with a backpack, fanny pack, and trekking pole, shedding my equipment before shedding my load would take time. In other words, I couldn't just make myself vanish, ninja-like, from the road.

As the brown urge became overwhelming, though, I became less worried about what some random drivers might think of a nameless guy moving into the bushes. All I wanted was a place that was out of sight of traffic, which meant walking until I found a patch of ground that sloped downward and offered adequate cover.

I found what I was looking for not long after crossing a bridge. At the end of the bridge, the ground sloped away. Tall grass, Queen Anne's lace, and some unidentifiable thorny plants graced the margin closest to the freeway, and a thick patch of bushes screened me from oncoming westbound traffic. I would have been visible to eastbound traffic, but at that point on the freeway, the eastbound lanes were separated from the westbound ones by a wide median.

Nearly frantic at this point, I brunted my way through the grass and thorns, walked down the short slope until I was hidden from traffic by the bushes, dropped trou, gripped a pile of fallen branches and twigs for balance, and let fly with a bellow of relief that was immediately covered up by the noise of the traffic. As before, I managed the miracle of not hitting my own clothing, Allah be praised.

You can't know how worried I was that a police cruiser was going to stop where I was right then, but I encountered no police at any point during my walk on the freeway. About a mile or so farther down the road, I stopped at a spot that would have made for a far better pooping site; while there, I called various hotels and motels, which is how I ended up at this, the Cascade Motel.

I'm sorry to have put you through the agony and ecstasy of the poop story, but this is a special situation. Unlike when you're going from house to house, toilets aren't readily available on the freeway; there are no residences, gas stations, hotels, or porta-johns to succor you. And unlike when you're camping, you aren't guaranteed the privacy that comes with being in the wild (or at least having access to a campground toilet): cars are everywhere, and cover is hard to find, especially if you're loaded down with a backpack and other equipment. That's something for you prospective transcontinental walkers to keep in mind.

I reached the Cascade Motel, which lies outside the town center, at 8:57AM, having taken Exit 44 off the interstate to reach Cascade Locks. The town is small and tourism-oriented; the main drag greets you with a Best Western and a Char Burger restaurant, along with some other local hotels, a few shops and ice cream places, and the inevitable Shell and Chevron gas stations that seem to dominate the Pacific Northwest.

The lady who runs Cascade Motel is very nice; she allowed me to check in early. I got my key for Room Number 1 (shown previously), shed my equipment and clothing, took a shower, and was dead in bed by 10:30AM. I woke around 3:30PM, then must have gone back to sleep, because when I woke again it was dark outside.

All in all, that Wednesday-Thursday walk was a real adventure: draining, frightening, and frustrating, but also a pleasure. I had the chance to meet new people, drink RC Cola, and enjoy some incredible vistas. What more could you want?

And now that it's 5:45AM, guess what: I'm gonna sleep some more!

A note before I go: I'm very achy right now, so it's possible I'll hang around Cascade Locks another day or two. I didn't know this, but the motel lady told me there's a KOA campground not even a mile from where I am. If I do decide to stay longer, I'll be shifting to that site.

*For all I know, the Multnomah Falls might be visible from the road during the day. I heard the falls that night, but didn't see them.

** It was a thirteen-mile walk from Corbett to Multnomah Falls, and I'd already walked a few miles from western Troutdale to Corbett; it was an unknown distance from Multnomah to the I-84 junction, and from there to my stopping point on the freeway. My walk might have been as long as 25 miles, maybe longer, but I'd have to check that on a real computer. All I know is that I was going at a snail's pace by the end, marching like a zombie. "Go easy on the knee," indeed.


Thursday, July 24, 2008

interior view 2

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interior view 1

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Cascade Motel: it's bungalow style!

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the so-called Bridge of the Gods

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journey's end (for now)

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Horsetail Falls, 12:42AM (Thu.)

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taking a break

It's about 11:30PM, and I've been walking pretty much all this time. I stopped at Bridal Veil Park to take a much-needed dump (hello again, turkey club sandwich!), but otherwise I've been on this Historic Highway, wanting like hell to get onto I-84, but always unable to.

It's been an exercise in frustration. From a bit before Crown Point, the highway began to descend, switchbacking along the mountain contours, bringing me ever closer to my goal, which was to walk eastward on the shoulder of westbound I-84 until I found an exit to a campground or cheap motel (yeah, I saw a hitchhiking site that quoted Oregon traffic law re: hitching and pedestrians, and pedestrians do seem to be able to walk the freeways here; a commenter linked to a different hitching site from the one I saw, but linked the same legal info).

Unfortunately, the highway began to behave more like a graph of "1/x." You know the graph: the plotteds curves come closer and closer to the X and Y axes, but never touch them.

Yes: tonight, I-84 is my asymptote, and it's pissing me off. The Historic Highway has on several occasions brought me downward and leftward to put me within spitting distance of the railroad tracks separating me from the freeway... but every time I swerved nearer, I'd end up swerving away, upward and rightward. I'm ready to kill the people who constructed this road. Or maybe I should kill the builders of I-84; the highway's probably been around longer, and it would have been up to the freeway builders to add the requisite off-ramps.

The ex-Marine at the Super 8 motel in Troutdale had told me that Mulnomah Falls was a must-see; it was a shame to pass it in the dark tonight, as all the restaurants and shops were closing for the night. I was starting to hope that the Falls would have a hotel on the grounds; it's probably a good thing they don't, because I imagine it'd be pretty expensive.

So here I sit, still on Historic Highway, barely 150 yards from I-84. I'm in some sort of parking lot, perhaps one of those places where a driver can pull off the road and take a nap. Aside from the distant glow of headlights and taillights from the freeway, the night is dark. The trees rise above me on either side of the road, a jagged trench of blackness. The sky grins its starry grin, and the night is, thankfully, cool enough to send most of the mosquitoes packing.

I had refilled my Camelbak at Chanticleer Point, so I don't currently lack for water. After I rest a bit more, I plan to keep walking until I finally hit the damn interstate, and when I see an exit for a cheap hotel, I'll take it and book myself for two nights. I think I'll have earned it.

So... gotta get up and go soon. Ah, yes-- one more thing I should note: after about 9PM, the highway pretty much emptied out. Except for the very occasional car, I've been alone with the forest sounds, walking in the dark. Unlike that walk along Chuckanut Drive in Washington, though, the night here is darker, so I've been hugging the middle of the road (the double-yellow line is a barely-visible gray blur, easier to see when you look away from it) to avoid pitching off a steep drop on my left or grazing mossy boulders on my right.

More later, folks. I'll be curious to see how many miles I walked when I next get hold of a real computer.

A quick PS: just as I was finishing this post up, an SUV drove by, braked, stopped, then swerved partway into the parking lot to point its lights right at me. I understand the driver's curiosity, but shining your headlights on someone is pretty rude. I wonder whether the driver has called the police. Maybe I'd better get going, eh?


Multnomah Falls, 10:09PM (Wed.)

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my first ever DEAD SKUNK!

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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

this sort of drop-off always freaks me out: if a car comes, I have nowhere to go

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the bridge I just crossed (over Latourell Falls)

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Crown Point

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LaRhesa and Josh from San Antonio

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sitting cross-legged on a bench at Chanticleer Point

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at Chanticleer Point

So I've walked from the western edge of Troutdale (effectively the eastern edge of Portland; Monday's walk was barely 7 or 8 miles) through Troutdale's very cute and very brief main drag, through Troutdale's farms and burbs, then through Corbett,* following the Historic Columbia River Highway pretty much all the while.

But that may have been a mistake. You see, the Oregon side of the river has plenty of campgrounds where a tired Kevin can kick back for the night (Corbett's lone B&B was, as mentioned, $350 a night), but those campgrounds appear to be accessible only from the water's edge. As you saw in the previous photo, I'm several hundred feet above the river, and the roadway that follows the river is I-84, which at this point also doubles as Route 30.

Here's the thing: a dude at the bar told me that, in Oregon, it's legal to walk along the freeways. If this is true, and it's absolutely urgent that I confirm this, most of my navigational issues will disappear for at least half of my trek along the WA/OR border. The only other thing I'd need to confirm is that I-84 has wide shoulders all along its length. If those two questions have "yes" for an answer, I plan on dumping the high road in favor of the low, and following 84 as far as possible.

Today's walk has been only mildly hilly, but even mild hilliness bothers my knee. I'm hoping that hugging closer to the river's edge will mean less variation in elevation.

Am going to try to confirm the interstate's walkability now. In the meantime, if you know the answer to the walkability/wide shoulders questions, please leave a comment. But only if you're sure and can point me to an authoritative online source. I don't want to be picked up by police more frequently than I absolutely have to.

*While in Corbett, I did stop for lunch at a bar, where I had a (cheap!) turkey club sandwich and another blast from my past: an RC Cola, which is almost impossible to find in northern Virginia an nonexistent in Korea. I'd forgotten how much I missed RC.


Chanticleer Point (Columbia River Gorge overlook, next to the Portland Women's Forum)

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Portland Women's Forum??

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a little help, please

I'm on the road, but racking my brains about BlackBerry setup. I've managed to figure out how to restore just about every lost function, but I still can't check my voicemail because I don't know what the voicemail number is.

So I turn to you, O Ye BlackBerry Curve owners: how does a person with a 703 area code find out what his voicemail number is?

Please leave a comment, and thanks in advance. (BTW, I did try the byzantine service, but got lost in the labyrinth. Perhaps someone can navigate it better than I?)


I really AM in a foreign land

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remind me: what country am I in, again?

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...and to the right is the Sandy River

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leaving the motel this morning (and sweaty, as usual, after packing!)

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Jesus and politics

Many of you may be aware that there exists a small but vocal school of thought that claims that Jesus of Nazareth never existed. The basic argument is simple: there is no direct evidence that Jesus walked the earth-- no hair, no bones, no clothing (unless you consider the Shroud of Turin authentic), no writing directly from his hand.

It's easy to see why such a school of thought might form: the ancient evidence for Jesus' existence boils down to the canonical gospels, the Pauline epistles, and a few other canonical and non-canonical writings. Two other ancient extra-biblical authorities are known to have mentioned Jesus: the Jewish historian Josephus and the Roman historian Tacitus. Neither spends much time on the man from Nazareth.

The writings of Paul are, chronologically speaking, the earliest writings of the New Testament. Most or all of the Pauline epistles would have been written late in Paul's life, putting them generally in the 50s-- that is, about two decades or more after Jesus' death. This makes it very unlikely that anything written about Jesus was actually written by eyewitnesses.

My point in mentioning all this isn't to agree with the "Jesus didn't exist" school of thought; it's simply to reinforce the fact that over two billion people base their faith in Jesus on almost no historical support (doxastic practices will have to be a subject for another post; much of the current debate in philosophy of religion focuses on epistemological issues related to belief-formation). Given what we know about human psychology, it seems natural, to me at least, that we might try to fill in the gaps of Jesus' life and, as often happens when humans approach the divine, to re-create him in our own image.

This point was reinforced recently when I heard two interesting claims while at the Metanoia Peace House. One claim was that Jesus preached socialism (a claim I've heard several times before); the other was that Jesus preached against capital punishment.

I'm a bit leery of seeing Jesus as the advocate of or spokesman for a socioeconomic theory, especially in light of the general tenor of his preaching, the dominant theme of which was the coming Kingdom of God (or "the KOG," as it was joshingly called in a christology class I took in grad school). We have far too little evidence to say for certain what economic system Jesus would have been partial to, so I'm equally leery of the "Jesus was a capitalist" crowd. In both cases, I sense an effort to remake Christ in the image of the theorists.

I do, however, find it at least somewhat plausible that Jesus would have had trouble with capital punishment. It was this past Monday morning, during the Peace House prayer session that included a reading from the beginning of Chapter 8 of the gospel of John, that I heard the claim put forth that Jesus, in the story about the condemned woman saved from stoning ("let the one without sin cast the first stone"), was essentially saying that, because none of us is sinless, none of us has the right to condemn another to death. It was noted that Jesus, who was being tested by his detractors, had cleverly given an answer that remained consistent with Mosaic law while also providing what was, effectively, a compassionate solution to the woman's situation.*

But the Jesus of the scriptures isn't easily reducible to Gandhi-style pacifism. If the scriptures are to be trusted, Jesus spoke casually about hellfire and famously said he had come not to bring peace, but the sword. This isn't consistent with the Indian notion of ahimsa, nonviolence or no-killing. The Christus Victor of the Book of Revelation also strikes me as far removed from the pacifistic image we normally have of Jesus. Here, too, as with the socialism issue, scripture will be interpreted by different people according to their different orientations.

I suppose the meta-issue here, that of creating God in our own image, is tied to the axiological issue of whether it's good or bad that we do so. Is it necessarily a bad thing that we see what we want to see when we look at Jesus or the Buddha or Krsna or Allah? I have no quick or easy answer to that, and I leave the issue on the table as something for my readers to dwell on.

But before I sign off, I should note that great things sometimes happen when we see those we love the way we want to see them; it's not always a matter of self-delusion when we view others resolutely through the prism of our own perspective. After all, what other perspective is truly available to us, yes?** Imagine a relationship in which both partners took a crisply realistic and harshly pragmatic view of each other. How long do you suppose such a relationship would last?

*One person at the session astutely noted that the woman was a pawn in the proceedings, as the real point of the confrontation between Jesus and hoi iudaioi was that hoi iudaioi wanted to snare Jesus and thereby find a reason to condemn him).

**Remind me to write more about Nick Rescher's concept of orientational pluralism sometime. This concept informs the fascinating (and, to me, frustrating) work of S. Mark Heim, an evangelical Protestant who has been a prominent critic of John Hick's more classical philosophical model of religious pluralism. Heim, riffing off Rescher, takes seriously the idea that perspectives are "one to a customer." Or if you'd rather read thoughts I've written on Heim's work, go buy my book (see this blog's sidebar), which devotes a good deal of space to examining and critiquing Heim.


Tuesday, July 22, 2008

one big-ass dawg

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shower... or teleportation booth? let's find out, shall we?

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only as far as Troutdale

I checked out of the Portland Super 8 a little after noon yesterday; the motel's shuttle bus driver saw me and exclaimed when he saw the size of my backpack. "How much does it weigh?" he asked. I told him it was about fifty pounds, and he said, "I remember back when I was a Marine, and we had to march thirty-five miles with seventy-five pounds on our backs." I told him I didn't envy him. I don't.

Front-desk staffers started to involve themselves in the conversation, asking what I was doing, and what my walk was all about. I told them I was visiting various homes and religious centers to talk with people about interreligious issues, and one staffer, also named Kevin, asked, "So are you trying to find your own religion?"

"Nah, I know who I am," I said with a smile. "This is more about finding out where other people stand."

I've discussed before my hesitancy in using the word "pilgrimage" to describe what I'm doing, and as time goes on, the more right I think I am. You see, a religious pilgrimage is a focused act of devotion, not a willy-nilly exploration. Perhaps the term can be used in a whimsically metaphorical way to describe any long trek done on foot (are there biking or driving pilgrimages? how about sailing pilgrimages? how relevant are the seafaring pilgrims, who landed in the New World purportedly in search of the freedom to practice their religions, to this discussion?), but in the strictest sense of the phrase, I'm not dropping everything to walk an immense distance to a specific point in order to venerate an object of worship and/or participate in some sort of ceremony that caps off the journey. That, I think, would be a true pilgrimage in the religious sense, distinct from other forms of pilgrimage, and distinct from what I'm doing.

So I left the motel and started the next leg of my non-pilgrimage, starting off on Airport Way and walking east along Marine, the riverside drive.

I didn't get far, though. I called the only hotel in Corbett, the one whose address I had used to plot my MapQuest route, and made a rude discovery: the hotel was a bed and breakfast that would have cost me a whopping $350 a night. So I changed plans then and there: it was around 5 o'clock and my knee wasn't feeling so hot, so I decided to stop in the town of Troutdale, where I found a Motel 6 ($45/night before tax) and opted to hole up for two nights while I figured out how best to proceed. I'm typing this entry from a surprisingly comfortable bed.

For the time being, it appears I'm going to have to take it easy on the knee, keeping my walks to ten miles or less. What's funny is that my manager Alan had privately recommended exactly this strategy a while back, and I'd said no. Well, Alan, it looks as though you were right all along. Lessons in humility never cease. Guess I need more of them than the average person.

So where do we go from here? Alan wrote up a 19-day itinerary to get me to Lewiston, Idaho, and I'm going to try to follow it, but I'm also going to have to listen to my body and stop each day before any problems become too severe. I suspect the itinerary will stretch to at least a month.

I'm going to slap Alan's proposed route up on the blog, and in subsequent posts I hope to give everyone a clearer idea of the overall path this walk will take. Several people have, over the past two months, written in to volunteer their homes; I hope to plot those points and use them as markers for the larger itinerary. I further hope this will make it easier for readers of this blog to anticipate where I'll be and to help us figure out how to "fill in" the huge spaces between those points (as always, I strongly recommend that you click on the "How Can I Help?" link on the sidebar).

More in a bit.


the worst of Kevin's face rash (NB: the dark blotch is NOT a scab)

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view of the Columbia River from Monday's walk

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Monday, July 21, 2008

cotton almost all GONE

Along with mailing back my dead BlackBerry (data recovery didn't happen; a rant about AT&T may be in the works), I also mailed back a few pounds' worth of clothing and paperwork. Among the clothing items were my bulky blue jeans and my bulky sweatpants, both of which had served me well, but had also taken up a lot of space in my backpack. In their place is a pair of lightweight "convertible" pants made from synthetics (thank you, REI); I also now own a pair of shorts to "wear around the house," so to speak.

My dry-food errand was unsuccessful; the local outdoors shop says it doesn't open until 10AM, but despite hitting Metanoia for the final goodbye at 7:20AM (I attended the prayer service) and waiting downtown until the store's purported opening time, I saw, when I got to the store's entrance, that it was still closed. I have to check out of Super 8 by noon, so I'm now on the Max's Red Line, on my way back to the motel. Not a big deal; I can order food packs online... the next time I'm near a computer.


thank you, Portland!

I've been in Portland for thirteen days, and while my right knee still isn't fully recovered, the time has come to forge ahead.

Very early tomorrow morning, I'll be heading to the Metanoia Peace House to say a final goodbye to the good folks there, after which I have one shopping errand to do before going back to the hotel, packing up, and heading off to a hotel in Corbett, a little more than a 17-mile walk away.

I'm impatient to be moving eastward. Staying at motels is a major drain on the finances, and barring a significant cash windfall, it appears I'll be stopping at some point and finding work for a few months to make up for the drainage. I have cash for the moment, but plotting the graph of my expenses is a rather depressing exercise.

Aside from lodging, another major expense is eating. I normally eat just one meal a day, either lunch or dinner, and often add a cheap snack to that. When I eat, I'm not shy about gobbling carbs, so my one main meal is usually large: it's where most of my daily calories come from.

The problem, though, is that I generally eat this meal at a sit-down restaurant, which makes it hard to cut costs. I'm not the type to order the top-rank menu items; in general, what I do is order an appetizer and a modest main course, one that includes veggies where possible. Unfortunately, with appetizers running anywhere from $4 to about $10, the final cost of my single meal of the day often approaches or slightly exceeds $20, once we figure in the tip. That's a cash hemorrhage in itself: if I do this over thirty days, that comes to $600-- way too much for a single person to be paying for food.

The solution-- and this accounts for my morning errand tomorrow-- is to bite the bullet. A single dry food pack from the camp store, containing a meal that serves two normal people, costs about $8 or $9 at the local stores here (cheaper single-serving meals are available, just so you know, but they're pretty puny); spending $8-9/day for a meal, and staying disciplined about it, means paying only $240-270/month as opposed to $600. If possible (and much depends on the availability of camp stores), that's the new plan.

I wish I could shop for fresh ingredients and save even more money, but storage then becomes an issue, as does time: how much time should I spend departing from my route to shop for food? Where am I supposed to keep these bulky goods, storing them in such a way that they don't spoil?

I have moments where I wonder whether it might not be better to strip down to the barest essentials: a single change of clothing, my toiletries, my wallet, however much drinking water I require-- and simply chuck the rest, hoping that fortune will favor the foolish. Such moments are, at least for me, akin to the temptation we feel when leaning over the edge of a precipice: we know we mustn't jump, but some basic urge is tickling and goading our rational mind.

Anyway, it's time to leave. I've enjoyed Portland and have started to familiarize myself with its "TriMet" public transportation system (a bit reminiscent of some European cities, what with the light rail system that passes trolley-style through the downtown streets). I've come to like Lewis and Clark College, whose law library I used for transcription of the Genjo dialogue you saw in the previous post. I've also come to enjoy the people who, although they lean way too leftward for my politically centrist tastes, are generally very open and very friendly.

I'm happy to be BlackBerrying again (still a lot to do on that front), but worry that this new phone will also conk out on me. The warranty replacement policy stipulates that AT&T has the right to send a refurbished phone as a replacement, and that's exactly what I got. Having had nothing but bad luck with refurbished equipment in the past, my policy is Buy new. Keep your fingers and tentacles crossed in the hopes that my luck with refurbished equipment will change. At the very least, I hope this BlackBerry lasts longer than six weeks before dying.

And with that, it's time for bed.