Friday, January 1, 2010

Selected Field Notes of 2009

Just some of the happenings around this country in 2009:

A Life at 3 mph

August 21, 2009
Cannon Beach, Oregon

For those that think all hikers and bikers obsess and constantly calculate pack weight, let it be known that there still exists a small populace that represent the seemingly confounding but universally balancing opposite. Consider the oppositional extreme case of Matt and Rad - Matt, the pedaling artist / human mule who was dragging the more than 250lbs of total load that included his dog Rad on some grueling zig-zag path of the American West. Rad's kennel-trailer had all sorts of gear and nic-nacs loosely attached and he seemed to be well acclimated to his mobile home. According to Matt (still in good spirit), they had begun in Oklahoma, and estimated that at launch, his total weight (paint, esil dog, etc) was near 300lbs. By the time he had made it to a friend in Seattle, he decided to lose the acrylics and oils so to "lighten the load". I love dogs, but have no clue as to what you'd call this. Topping it off was the fact that his boy Rad was still growing...

Your Friendly Suburban Swinger Society

September 10, 2009
Boise, Idaho

A peaceful, quiet, beautiful neighborhood: people jogging or pushing strollers, kids riding bikes, kicking soccer balls, other toys freely strewn from yard to yard. The homes are stylish and new, and the grass is green in this manicured, but modestly up-scale fenced development of bourgeois butter crust America. The parents are tax-paying professionals and their kids academically accelerated. There's barbeques by the pool and community socials every fourth Sunday. And if you care to join, there's more than a few friendly couples that like to swing freaky some evenings. "Just leave your garage door halfway down so we're sure..." Halfway down or halfway up? Is the glass half-full or half-empty? Hey, I'm no relativist, but still know when to mind my business.

In Search of the Loneliest Highway

September 22, 2009
Delta, Utah

In the remote desserts of western Utah, I crossed paths with a wild, young-gun Minnesotan in search of America's loneliest highway (supposedly, Nevada's US-50). There were other ancillary interests motivating his bike trip, but riding this highway was paramount. After asking why, he explained how "One night, after haven eaten a particular mushroom, I was reading William Burroughs when 'a vision' came to me that this was something I had to do." He went on to say how he finally came to understand himself after reading one of Burrough's self-reflective quotes and realizations that all along, "I was my own under-cover agent, but didn't know it..." I then asked him why he didn't wear a helmet. With his pasty bare bird chest, chrome-colored aviator sun shades, and bandana flapping with hair in the wind, he exclaimed, "Because I'm a ninja! I've flown over the handle bars twice now, each time emerging unscathed due to my instinctive rolling skills." After departing at our crossroads, I looked west towards Nevada and envisioned this jovial free spirit, alone, and happy with his loneliness. I couldn't help but to smile as we each rode our separate ways - me, south, in search of Zion, and he, deeper into the heart of America's Great Basin. I hope he found what he was looking for...

The Freezer Geezer

October 2, 2009
Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

Just when you think that you've done something of slight significance by riding a bicycle a couple thousand miles from Seattle to the Grand Canyon, you meet Rocky the Freezer Geezer. No silly TV "hard-core extreme" here... he's the guy running marathons up the Brooks Range, cycling snow centuries, and when Monday rolls around, he'll still ride his bike to work in -30F. Soon to be drawing social security, he's cracked a hip, blown a ventricle valve and still manages to win several of the seemingly unbearable Iditasport races. A prolific Alaskan geologist with years of remote field work, he once had to fight back against an attacking grizzly, and then later that night, thwart another attempt from what was believed to be the bear's vengeful brother. Ah, Alaska!


October 16, 2009
Silver City, New Mexico

America's got mohawks too. Out west at least, they are less uncommon than one might presume, and after two years living and working in downtown Seattle, I've seen a fair share – finding peculiar interest in the varying styles and attitudes of each. So while piddling about the Gila Hike 'n Bike Shop, I immediately took notice of the tall guy that walked in sporting the most incredible mohawk I had ever seen: blazing blue, intensely big and bold, sharp, clean, and stiff-prickly mean (Leave the camera in your pocket). Now mohawks are naturally intimidating to most people, especially one's like this. But over time, I've observed a somewhat strange, even counter-intuitive correlation between the mohawk's radical extravagance and the individual's attitude brashness. It seems to me that the biggest, badest, in-your-face, offensive mohawks are more often worn by men with cool, calm, confident temperaments, whereas the smaller, subdued, and less obtrusive mokawks belong to the sometimes perturbed, shoulder chipped punk or blatantly carousing prick with a stick up his yang. Why is this? Well, I'm not certain, but pretty sure that it has something to do with conviction and commitment... Broad generalizations no doubt, but the tall hawk I met in the bike shop that day was yet another example of why you shouldn't judge the book (or person) by its cover.

Sing me David Bowie

November 4, 2009
Buescher State Park, Texas

Camped in a swampy cyprus vacant state park of east Texas, I was sleeping lightly under moon-lite , moss-draped ancient oaks when I was awoken by the ruckus of two late night ramblers yapping happily up at the wash-house. From my tent, the sounds pierced clearly through the cool, moist air as even the slightest twig snap was detectable from 200 feet away. At first, I considered them a disturbing nuisance to my futile efforts to resume a broken dream. But the more I listened, the more I began to enjoy this unfolding late show. Boisterous and crass smack talk to begin with, but by the end, the tandem took turns fine-tuning their vocals. Talk of David Bowie led to songs by David Bowie. And they sang them quite well. From the wash-house, it was nearly impossible to see my tent site, and as no one else was in the park, the two had presumed the air was all theirs. With no inhibitions, they sang freely from the bottom of their jolly hearts. The vocal quality seemed to improve step-for-step with each hygienic facet. The tiled showers echoed their melodious bellows following the nasal blowing and classic throat clearing phlegm hackings. After brushing the teeth nice and clean, lips were whistling and hands smack-slapping new beats back out to the street where they cranked up the Subaru and off they flew. As I have told many of my gracious hosts along the way, it's difficult to overstate the rejuvenating nature of a warm shower. To hear the actual transformation take place in others from the comfy confines of your secret tent is a gratifying dose of empathy, especially when you yourself are already clean and content.

Fatty's Cracklin

November 14, 2009
Woodville, Mississippi

Way down in southern Mississippi, I found the 400-lb black woman that makes the all-time best fried food that exists on the planet. Fried Twinkies are also endemic to this region and may challenge cracklin as the world's unhealthiest, but we need not concern ourselves with such nutritional details here. If you don't dig swine, then either stop reading, or go ahead and purge out of repulse, because I'm talking about that down and dirty, deep-fried fatty pig skin called CRACKLIN ladies and gentlemen. The type of cracklin unique to Cajun cuisine and the kind you'd be hard-pressed to find in Carolina. Unlike any dried-up, crusty sponge mess of a pork rind, the gushing greasy goodness of Fatty's Cracklin stops you dead in your tracks. For those with heart conditions, please pardon the pun. But for those chomping at the bits to take a bite out of life and temporarily not caring about cholesterol, a restless grave awaits if you miss this opportunity. This, I felt to be one of those small, yet special discoveries as the taste alone tells you exactly where you are. All you need is one or two pieces (followed by a quart of water), which was good for the moment since daylight was waning and the plaque quickly narrowing....I bought an extra bag before moving on through to the county park avenue.