# 2005, the way home: day 6

Original post: 2005-05-29: Return from Mojave, Day 6

Photos: Mojave to Illinois, May 2005

Day 6: Seattle to Ochoco National Forest in Oregon

I like reading the old posts and old journals because it lifts up little details that had otherwise been forgotten. I was going to go back to Mt. St. Helens and hike around a bit but, apparently, the cloud cover was down too low that it would have been like looking at fog through fog from fog. So: no go.

I'll tell you what my superpower is, though: give me a map and I'll find you the most interesting route from Here to There. I don't know why, but I know why. When my mom worked at the ASCS office [1] back in the day, the fields and plots were printed out on paper for measurement, then we just had them at home as a neverending supply of scratch paper. Maps—black-and-white aerial or satellite images, really—were this everpresent baseline thing at home. No wonder I can see the world so easily like a map. I never thought about it before.

But, yes: give me a map, a point A, and a point B, and I'll find you the most interesting route in between. Not the shortest, not the fastest—the most interesting. Because, you see, we optimize for the wrong things. Short might make sense if you're out of gas, and fast might make sense if you need to make it to the hospital, but otherwise: why not optimize ("optimize") for something fuzzier like interest, stresslessness, novelty, etc. Oh ho: because you can't optimize for that. Or, maybe, you can, but you'd have to synthesize the variables in such a way that only the crackpots would deal with your math.

I've gone off the rails. But. No. There's an angle here.

Give me a map, a point A, and a point Z, and I'll find you points A-Y that show you something you've never seen before—in a good way.

And so, driving south past the Mt. St. Helens exit through Washington, that's what I did. Hey—can't do that, let's do something else instead. I cut south until I ran out of Washington, then I cut east along the Columbia River until it looked like a suitable place to cross. Along the way I saw an enormous group of kite surfers (at The Hatchery) taking advantage of the wind tunnel flow down the Columbia River Gorge to slalom around the whitecaps before taking flight.

Kitesurfing on a river? If the shoe fits.

From there: south. Past Mt. Hood. Back into the casual dry wilderness of Central Oregon—the high desert, the volcanic waste, the dry grass, the conspicuous lack of gas stations. (Foreshadowing.)

I...

I wish I could give you what I get out of driving across these strange (to me) but unremarkable (to anyone) places.

Playing back all these memories, and remapping all these routes, and sorting through all these pictures... I can put myself back in the seat of the Grand Am [2] and remember what it was like to feel the river gorge, then the trees, then the absence of trees. I can remember the low and then increasing anxiety of looking for the Campground sign that I was expecting to see, letting me know that it was time to turn off the highway onto a forest service road (Ochoco National Forest), and then begin the slower business of finding the campsite which had no name on the map (Deep Creek Campground), then finding (hopefully) an open campsite (right by the creek—count yr blessings).

I wonder about people who are older than me. 10 years. 20 years. 40 years. How many boring details that don't mean anything to anyone can a person hold? Is there a reason I remember what certain trees look like at a place I once stopped a car? What it felt like to drive across the interminable dry grass and volcanic rock? Why do we hold the things we hold?

[1] ASCS = Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service, part of the USDA (US Department of Agriculture), later the Farm Service Agency (FSA). I had no idea until now what ASCS stood for, though it is stamped in my memory. I vaguely remember the office being in downtown ("downtown") Lewistown at the edge of my memory, then later out by the high school. I still remember the phone number: 547-2233. Tell me... tell me why we retain the memories that we retain, it's so confusing...

[2] Coffin on Wheels, Coffin on Wheels.

# 2005, the way home: day 5

Original post: 2005-05-28: Return from Mojave, Day 5

Photos: Mojave to Illinois, May 2005

Hey—I'll tell you another thing I hate about getting older: you're expected to shower. If you stay in campsites in desert Nevada and California, it's not an option. There's no water—not enough to waste on washing yourself, at least. It's the kind of dry where you wash your camp dishes with a tortilla instead of water.

So, Day 4 of the trip was Day 1 of staying under a roof—Day 1 of having a shower. It's not a milestone-level of shower-free life, it's just that it's a weird normal from a different era. Live in the suburbs for a while and you lose a bit of that nerve—every day is shower day, and every other day is gross.

For the rest of the trip there would be relatively little camping. On that fifth night I stayed with some friends up at the University of Washington in Seattle. The details escape me—I met them in person at MIT the previous fall, or I knew them online. Either way, they were in a different chapter of the same student group I was in at Illinois: Students for the Exploration and Development of Space (SEDS).

Here's my favorite caveat to the pleasures of solo travel: whenever possible I try to tie it in with meeting up with other people that I know. And, along the way, I often meet and talk to other people who I don't know. When I started typing this paragraph I thought I was going to deconstruct the contradictions between traveling alone and meeting together. Now that this paragraph is nearing its end I don't feel anything to say about it. Traveling alone isn't about being alone, it's just easier to convince one and only one person that it's time to go here, time to go there, time to eat this, time to do that, and so on. So we're really comparing two different things here: convenience and community.

Solo: on the way up to Seattle, I took a detour to Mt. St. Helens. Mt. St. Helens is a myth. It blew up a few months before I was born (i.e., I didn't do it) yet I have a jar somewhere (I hope) of Mt. St. Helens ash that fell at my Aunt Sandy's house in Missoula. I didn't have time to give the place much more than a drive by, and a quick walk on the Hummocks Trail. It was surprising how much evidence remained of the eruption 25 years later—the remains of trees sheared off at the base, lengths of tree trunk jammed upside down into the dirt, and the enormous house-sized chunks of mountain called hummocks that were left out of place where they were deposited in 1980.

Community: I went with the UW kids (we were all kids then, eh?) to watch Star Wars Episode III at the theater.