Saturday, August 9, 2008

my dad, the chase car driver

My dad has offered to help me speed up the walk by being my chase car driver. This will allow me to walk relatively unencumbered and to save money on hotels by giving me a chance to collapse in the minivan. I'll be able to rack up 25-30 miles per day with little trouble, and might even make it through the Rockies before the snow descends too low (though that's something of a gamble this late in the game).

I'll be putting my head together with Dad and Alan Cook about a possible route through the Rockies; as always, readers are invited to click on the "How Can I Help?" link on the sidebar to see how they can contribute time, effort, and/or finances to this walk. Route ideas should go to Kevin's Walk Central:

kevinswalkcentral [at] gmail [dot] com

Thanks, Dad!

And, hey, if you'd like to be a chase car driver for a day or a week or longer, please tell us!

PS: Note to Becky: this turn of events may change things re: my stay in Walla Walla. Please don't try too hard to find me a place to work/stay; whoever I end up with will have to be patient and rather flexible. Much depends on whatever route is planned through the Rockies, and the timetable for that route.


shout-out to Pickup Truck Dude

dude in white pickup
stopped and offered me a lift
but I told him "Nein"

The guy pulled off the freeway in front of me and, like Frank on Route 14 near Underwood, WA, waited for me to walk up to him. He offered me a ride, proudly noting that he'd just dropped off "another hitchhiker" (the word "another" implying that I must be a hitcher, too). I told him I was walking across the country and didn't need a ride; he gave a cheerful "OK" and drove off. That was around Mile 92, I think.

So I'm here at Celilo Park, in my tent and listening to the wind blustering through the trees. The park is a haven for sailboarders, kiteboarders, and other folks who enjoy wind and waves. The parking lot is full of RVs and tents are all over the place, making the park look like the night before the opening of a major Star Wars film. The day was fantastic: bright, windy, and somewhere in the 70s. With the wind at my back for most of today's walk, the only real minus was those hair-raising bridge crossings.

I plan to leave here fairly early and take my time walking past Deschutes State Recreation Area and into Biggs, where I'll be motellin' and reassessing my route. I want to delay crossing back into Washington for as long as possible, as I'm trying to avoid Route 14. This means figuring out where I'll be stopping for the night while still on the Oregon side. As the Gorge ends and the terrain flattens out, I imagine I'll find plenty of potential campsites. I saw quite a few today, in fact, but knew I'd be ending up in Celilo and had no reason to stop earlier.

It's getting darker, but it's still blowing hard out there. I really appreciate this tent's design, which very effectively protects me from the wind. Getting sleepy. Need to take out contacts.


Celilo Park 2

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a view of my knee and a glimpse of Celilo Park (watersports haven; camp for free!)

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I'm goin' left (till you lead me to the right)

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rail bridge, Mile 96 on I-84

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seven to ten more miles to go

I've gone about eight miles at my slow, plodding pace, and am currently taking a break at Mile 90, about two miles past the turnoff for The Dalles Dam. I actually detoured, taking that turnoff in the hopes of finding a riverside spot from which to contemplate the big water. Unfortunately, the facility at Mile 88 isn't open to the public, and I had no intention of backtracking to the dam's visitor center, so I moseyed east until I found this pulloff, which is removed from traffic but visible to both eastbound and westbound drivers. It doesn't offer any shade, either; to get under the nearby bridge, I'd have to jump a barbed wire fence that guards the railroad track below me.

I'm just resting for the moment; my poor knee needs it. The wind's been blustery the entire walk today, with no sign of letting up. This was an issue earlier when I found myself on narrow shoulders, crossing bridges whose outer guardrails were merely jersey barriers, all of them below waist height. This scared the bejesus out of me whenever a strong gust shoved me and my backpack sideways toward the edge.

Wind and heights and fatal plunges aside, the temperature's been pleasant-- somewhere in the 70s. Quite balmy, not at all desert-like.

My motel was close to Exit 82; I walked east along 6th Street until I reached Exit 83 and got onto the freeway, but when I realized I was low on water, I got off at Exit 85 (still in The Dalles) and hit the Safeway, where I struck up a conversation with a very friendly florist named Dyane, who reminisced about traveling in Europe back when hostels cost only peanuts to stay in. I got my water, filled my Camelbak and two new Nalgene bottles (non-collapsible, alas, Paul C.), and headed back out into traffic. The wind's been at my back for most of this walk, and I think I won't have to worry about perilous bridges for the next few miles.

Right-- gotta get up and go.


looking eastward toward what remains of the Columbia River Gorge (Mile 90)

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someone's hidden fishing spot below the I-84 bridge at Mile 90

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The Dalles Dam

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Dyane the florist at Safeway in The Dalles (we talked a while about traveling in Europe)

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off after a day's delay

I'm moving east today after deciding to spend one extra night in The Dalles. I'll end up in either Celilo Park or Deschutes State Recreation Area this evening. Wish me luck: both sites are likely to be full.

A happy announcement: one person has expressed an interest in walking ten miles with me; we haven't arranged the particulars, but it'll happen sometime in the near future.


Friday, August 8, 2008

i'm very sorry, but...

A message to those who know my phone number:

For the time being, please don't leave any voicemails. I'm still unable to retrieve them, and a visit to the local AT&T store was unhelpful. My BlackBerry was passed around among several employees; they tried to figure out how to restore voicemail functionality, but no one knew the procedure for BlackBerrys (or is "BlackBerries" the proper plural?), and calling AT&T customer service from the store-- something I had to do in Portland-- was fruitless without the final four digits of my father's social security number (I've got it noted somewhere, but I don't tote it around with me and had hoped I wouldn't need it during this visit).

The staff's failure to figure out the voicemail setup confirmed that I hadn't been hallucinating: I'd managed to set everything up correctly on my first BlackBerry, but the procedure was somehow different for the second phone, and the new software's "Help" section was useless.

Upshot: restoring voicemail is going to take a while. The procedure I'm going to have to follow will, according to the staff, erase the six voicemails currently in storage. It's also going to take a while to do, so in the meantime, please email or text me. Gracias.


Thursday, August 7, 2008

a slight change in plan

When I head out from The Dalles on Friday morning, I have several options. One is to lumber all the way to Biggs, a nearly 19-mile walk. I'm ruling that out because my right knee, which had merely been bothering me up to this point, has finally started to hurt and is cutting my speed down. Another option would be to walk even farther to Maryhill State Park, which lies across the river in Washington. This won't work for two reasons: the distance is too great (says my knee), and I'd once again find myself limping along Route 14, which I've concluded is too dangerous for my taste, given its narrow-to-nonexistent shoulders.

I'm contemplating two more realistic possibilities for Friday based on a drive I took with my gracious host in The Dalles, author Jay Ellis Ransom: (1) walk to Celilo and camp at the riverside park across the freeway from the Indian village, or (2) do some primitive camping at the decidedly more beautiful Deschutes River State Recreation Area, which has a campground that might require reservations (the Celilo spot doesn't).

Either of those latter two options would take care of my needs Friday night, and from either point it would be less than ten miles to the town of Biggs, where I might be able to motel it. Biggs might be a problem because of the timing, however: I'd be arriving there on a Saturday, and my experience has been that Fridays and Saturdays are the worst days for which to reserve hotels. My fallback plan, if Biggs is full up, is therefore to camp an extra night at either Celilo or Deschutes, and then to arrive in Biggs on Sunday, when finding an empty room ought to be a cinch.

The Columbia River Gorge Scenic Area officially ends around Mile 100, but as you can see in my recent pics, we're already moving into true desert. While I hate the desert heat, I appreciate the general lack of humidity, and on a day like yesterday (Wednesday), I also appreciate cloud cover. What a contrast Wednesday was with Tuesday, which was brutal.

Dr. Ransom told me that I'm about to run out of things to see, especially if I plan to keep following the Columbia River. Things are going to get barren. I told him that I'd convert my trudge into one long walking meditation.

A CSer texted me to ask when I'd be hitting Umatilla, which is where she is; at this point I'd place my arrival date at August 15 (Assumption Day!) at the earliest.

So them's the plans for the moment. Details and even strategies might change, so stay tuned.


Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Old Courthouse, The Dalles

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Celilo longhouse, looking east

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Celilo longhouse, wide shot, looking west

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JE Ransom at the Celilo Indian Village longhouse

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just FYI

I'm planning to stay in The Dalles another two nights to rest my knee and give me a chance to do some crucial errands before moving on into the next phase of the walk. I'm just about at the end of the Columbia River Gorge; ahead of me lies hotter and dryer territory that will transition into true desert. Extra water bottles (thanks for the suggestion, Paul) will be in order.

I stayed at the home of polymathic writer Jay Ellis Ransom; I'll write more about my conversations with him later today, once I'm in a Motel 6. Stay tuned.


Dr. Jay Ellis Ransom, my host for my first night in The Dalles

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Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Pastor George Clark is on a mission

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entering The Dalles in 100-degree heat

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de plus en plus désertique

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tired and a bit shell-shocked from crossing I-84 during rush hour

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Monday, August 4, 2008

playing in traffic

You might not want to try what I tried not even an hour ago: crossing I-84 during rush hour. While there were large gaps in the traffic, the cars and trucks were spaced at annoyingly even intervals, making crossing difficult.

I had made it to the Exit 73 rest area, which is located on the eastbound side of I-84. This particular rest stop features a "caboose" of sorts run by a very nice lady who serves free coffee, tea, lemonade, and ice water (you can leave a cash donation that goes to a project in Africa; after three cups of lemonade and a bottle of cold water, I left two bucks). Turns out she's an EMT as well; she offered to soak my neck rag for me, and half-jokingly told me to be careful because she didn't want to have to come down the road and rescue me.

I asked the lady how to get over to the Memaloose campsite, which was just across the freeway at that point-- so tantalizingly close, yet so far away because there was no direct way across for either pedestrians or drivers. I told her I'd seen a sign at the rest area that said that eastbound travelers needed to go three miles farther down the road, get off at Exit 76, then backtrack all the way back to the Memaloose State Park exit, which isn't a numbered exit: it's in some sort of numerical limbo between Exits 73 and 74.

Walking six extra miles seemed like a stupid thing to do, what with the campground being right across the freeway, but the lady told me she'd check with some park workers she knew to see whether any other solution was possible. She called them up and then gave me the bad news: there was no other safe alternative.

I brooded at the eastbound rest area for an hour; while sitting at a cement park bench near a sign that said "Watch out for rattlesnakes," I met a gent who was walking his tiny dog. The guy was ex-Navy; we talked a bit about our respective travels, then I asked him what he thought would be the best way to handle my situation.

"Just cross the fuckin' freeway," he said. "Time it right, then go for broke." Then he and his dog walked off while I saddled up and began the trudge out of the rest area.

It was 5:30PM. Rush hour. With traffic moving along at a steady pace, I resigned myself to the idea of walking another six miles-- over two hours' more trudging. But when I had gone about a half-mile downhill and east, I saw a break in the traffic and decided, What the hell.

So against my better judgment, I took the ex-Navy guy's advice and went for broke. I couldn't do a dash, not with my heavy pack and my unsteady right knee, but I made it to the jersey barrier in the middle of the freeway, sat on it, and ballerina'ed my legs over it well before any eastbound traffic came near me. A westbound truck blew by, but I had seen that it was in the right lane; the left lane was clear, and once the truck roared past, the right lane was, too.

It may be legal to walk on Oregonian freeways, but I can't say I'd recommend doing what I just did. It's the closest I've come to playing in traffic, both foolish and dangerous, and to be honest, I'm not keen on repeating the experience, which felt like a real-life game of Frogger.

A while back, when I had first Googled the question of the legality of walking on Oregonian freeways, I stumbled upon a news article from last year about some woman who had attempted a similar crossing and had gotten splattered for her trouble. Visions of that woman were dancing in my head when I performed my own traverse; luckily for me, I lived to tell the tale, and had found a large enough gap in traffic that I had never been in real danger.

And now I need to set up my newly-cleaned tent. Memaloose State Park is a lot larger than I thought it was; it's also quite clean and grassy, a welcome change after the dustiness of Viento. A la prochaine.


...and so begins the desolation

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I started my walk fairly late today; got up about 8:30AM, took my time packing up my tent and backpack, typed out that entry about my cat, and lumbered out the door at 10:50AM. Walked twenty minutes to a spot near the Hood River marina, and sat down down for a picnic.

When I was at Wal-Mart two days ago, I had bought some cheap food along with that roll of super-absorbent towels; I figured that paying $30 for four or five meals was better than shelling out $20 for a single meal. I bought typical single-guy food: bologna, deli-sliced turkey, bread, mayo, cheese, pasta salad, cereal, milk, juice, chips, and snacks (local-brand danishes and Ho-ho clones; a dollar per box).

I blew through the juice, chips and pasta salad, and made decent progress on the bologna sandwiches, but by this morning I still had a half-loaf of bread, plenty of bologna, most of the cheese, and some leftover snacks. It seemed a shame to waste the remainder, so here I am, chowing down on sandwiches and snacks, fervently hoping I can make it to the Memaloose campground without needing to take another ignoble pit stop on the side of the freeway.

Though I'm enjoying the junk foodery, my only beverage is water, and I'm jonesing for a large can of Coke. I know where I can find one, but I think I'll save my money for later.

The walk to Memaloose is barely ten miles, so I can afford to take my time. It's a nice day today, good for relaxing. At the rate I go, ten miles is about four hours' walk, and hitting Memaloose in midafternoon isn't tragic. The weather ought to be good for the next day or so; my next stop will be The Dalles.

And onward we push. As always, if you know of religious institutions along my projected route that might take me in, please email Kevin's Walk Central:

kevinswalkcentral [at] gmail [dot] com


our cat

The email I got from my brother David regarding our old cat Mozart:

Sad Mozart news: this past Saturday evening he decided to make the move from Alexandria, VA over to Kitty Heaven.  He was an incredible 20 ½ years old and lived a very full life right up until his passing.  We decided to bury him at home in his favorite sunbeam spot outside the house next to the chimney and driveway along with his favorite food bowl and a can of his favorite food... I’m sure he’s living it up wherever he’s at right now.

I admit I was something of a cat-hater before I met Mozart. We'd had two cats before him. Patches, a pure white angora, was arrogant and mean, pretty much confirming my opinion of cats. He disappeared one day and no one lost sleep over him. Whiskers, our second family cat, had a more pleasant personality but was incredibly stupid for a cat. He, too, ended up disappearing; we suspect he got run over, whereas Patches, who had more common sense, probably just ran away.

Then along came Mozart, a beautiful long-hair, covered in gray fur but with white "socks" on his feet and other white patches on his face and elsewhere. He was dubbed Mozart for his musical kitten-meow.

Mozart was a "people" cat; he loved hanging around the family and could often be heard purring. He was also an amazing hunter throughout his life, dragging home bird and rabbit carcasses to show us his skill. I took a great liking to this cat right from the outset.

Mozart lived most of his life with one eye; in his youth, he got into a fight with a neighborhood cat and received a claw to the cornea. The eye was removed at the cat hospital, along with Mozart's family jewels. "We did both ends," the vet told us. Life was hilarious for a time as Mozart prowled the house in his ridiculous plastic collar, head half-shaved and eye socket filled with stitches. But you can't keep a good hunter down, and Mozart was soon back to slaughtering the local wildlife. Once, he even chased a large dog off our property.

A few years later, Mozart went missing for two or three weeks. Our entire family was depressed. Losing him was different from losing Patches or Whiskers: Mozart had the sort of personality that filled the house, and you noticed when he was gone.

Like any Hollywood celebrity, the cat went through fat and skinny stages, becoming shockingly thin toward the end of his life. The past couple of years, while I was in Korea, there was a sort of death watch going on in northern Virginia; Mozart was finally starting to look old. His one eye was clouding over, his fur was less lustrous, and one by one, his fangs began dropping out. Not that this latter issue presented much of a problem: Mozart had always been a fan of those high-rent canned cat foods, which are soft enough to be gummed by a toothless codger.

When I'd visited home a summer or two ago, I'd already received a few emails about the cat's decline, so when I arrived in NoVA I was expecting to see a cat who looked like a revenant from Stephen King's Pet Sematary. As it turned out, Mozart looked thin but healthy as a horse.

But as often happens to older mammals throughout the animal kingdom, old Mozart's true decline was steep and sudden, and I regret not being home to see it and help out. Mozart had indeed lived a full and, I hope, happy life, housed with a loving family. We might say he has now returned to the Great Cycle, but... when did he ever leave it?

One last, fond scratch between the ears for you, Kitty. You helped me to see that not all cats are bad.


Sunday, August 3, 2008

the perfect day

What's your notion of perfect weather? For me, it would be a lot like yesterday afternoon: temps in the high 60s and low 70s, sun shining, just a few clouds, and a constant breeze.

Yesterday, Rachael, my CS host in Underwood (by the way, Rhesus, "CS" means "Couchsurfing"), drove me back downhill from Underwood, then across the bridge to Hood River, where I am now. Because I had some miles to make up, and also because my room at the Riverview Lodge (15th and Oak) wasn't ready when I got there, I left my backpack in the motel office and took a long walk. It was around lunchtime, and I found a place on Oak that served something I hadn't had in a while: gyros. I stopped there, downed a beef gyro (as in Korea, the place served beef or chicken, no lamb) and some 7-Up, wandered toward the river, then walked back uphill to my motel. I stopped at an ice cream shop and had a scoop of "chocolate lover's chocolate" (essentially a slightly richer version of regular chocolate) in a waffle cone, then collected my pack from the Riverview's office and went to my room, Number 24.

Once inside, I unpacked my poor tent, which had spent more than 24 hours inside its sack, soaked and dirty. The whole rig needed a thorough washing and drying, so I stepped into the shower with everything and proceeded to cover the bottom of the tub with Viento State Park's dirt, sap, and leaf fragments. I hung most of the gear up on the shower rod, but realized that the only way to dry everything rapidly would be with some help. To that end, I strolled westward to the local Wal-Mart, picked up a roll of super-absorbent disposable wipes (and some cheap food), and went back to Riverview.

Today, the tent, footprint, various sacs, and even the tent stakes are nearing the end of the drying process. Tomorrow, I'm off to Memaloose State Park, and the day after that, I hit The Dalles, which my manager tells me is the largest city in the Columbia River Gorge. The character of my walk is about to change, from what I hear: the climate's going to become hotter and dryer, and towns will be fewer and farther between. While I'm in the Dalles, I'll likely buy some extra water containers. The added weight won't be welcome, but in the coming weeks, it will be necessary.

At least I had one absolutely perfect day.