Saturday, August 27, 2005


Rocky Mountain NP

We woke early that morning. We ate, tried to shake off the morning mountain chill, and got ready for a hike. Our mission was to reach Loomis Lake, another 1,000 ft up and west, into the curl of the mountain area we were in. The trick was, there was no trail after the camp, so we were on our own to cross the rocks and forest. We started off very gung ho, climbed some steep rocks, then found a wonderfully comfortable place where the sun shone down on us, clear of the trees. We lay there, ended up passing out for an hour or so, before we got up to move on. We climbed, and it didn't seem like a lot, but it must have been. There were a lot of rough patches, includes some spot were we actually had to walk on the thick cover of the bushes. But we had a lot of energy starting out, and it wasn't long after noon before we reached the first small body of water, which, since it was unnamed, we decided to proclaims NY Lake. From there we could see the curl of the mountains, reaching up into the lower tundra where no trees live, and there was a wonderful patch of ice set into the mountain alcove. We knew the lake was under that ice, though we couldn't see it through the trees.

Then we climbed up, over a series of rocks, and that way we got into the lower tundra, clear of the trees. We hoped that up there there would be an easy passage around the thick forest below, and we could pass into that mountain curve, and get as close to the ice as possible. But that didn't happen, because we came to a passing where it was all small rocks that slid under your feet. The trick was, Mo said, after he made it across, to keep going across even though the ground is coming out from under you. "Just keep moving your feet, like swimming." Right. Like swimming. Only through rocks. Well, I understood the concept; I get the physics of it, but there something about standing on solid ground that I actually like. I tried to cross, but I kept trying to get a solid foothold, which was impossible, and the more the rocks slipped, the more I tried steadying myself, and of course, the more the rocks slipped. Down the slope, maybe 500 ft. It didn't look like a fun drop. So I lay flat on my belly, and clung face down to the rocks. Mo was having a laughing fit across the way. I found it funny myself, except I had to do a kind of belly flop-pushing myself up an inch then moving over, one inch at a time, to get myself back. "It's just like swimming," Mo kept saying through his chuckles.

Well, that didn't work. I got back to where we started and just at that moment lighting and thunder sounded around us. The rain came down, and all I remember is the warnings in the visitor center: "Many people die from lighting at Rocky Mountain NP. In the event of a lightning storm, please stay under the treeline." Of course, we were sitting directly above the blessed treeline. And with the rain coming down, there was no hope to go back down the rocks, way too slippery. But fortunatel,y there was a tiny alcove along the side of the cliff where we were, and we sat under it. We ate small sandwiches we brought, watched the lighting (keeping our fingers crossed) and watched the rain turn to hail then back to rain again. The weather is so violent is Rocky Mountain- being up around 11,500 ft, the clouds move as fast as cars over your head. It goes from clear skies to thunderstorms and back to sunny again in a matter of an hour. We waited the short rain out, went back down over the rocks we came up, and cut through the thick trees to find Loomis Lake. And we did, and it felt wonderful. The water was insanely cold, and numbed my toes to the touch. There was no hope of swimming.

To be continued...

Friday, August 26, 2005


Nederlands Continued...

continuing form the last post

Woody, a blue eyed, bearded, nice guy explained it to me.
"Yeah, I was just driving through," I said.
"Uh-oh," he laughed, intimating that that's how people get pulled in to Nederlands. That's where I was. Nederlands. And I could see how that worked: always looking for a nice place to hide away and write a book, this place was sticking to me, after one Latte. And if I was just drifting through, I'm sure I'd find a reason to stay a while. It's that kind of place.

Getting it's name, rumor has it, by the original mountain men who thought it looked liked the Netherlands, but couldn't pronounce it correctly. My question: how the hell did those mountain men know what the Netherlands looked like?

Back to Woody, who is the only person whom I've told about grad school, that I didn't have to explain it was a good thing. "Wow, that's amazing, man, congratulations." And what's amazing to me is that he gets it. Then he politely takes his leave by telling me he and his pals are off to the mountains to pick magic mushrooms. "I sell them up in Boulder, at a diner, and do pretty well."

Right. Then there's Russell and Pete, out back. Fiftyish, bearded (of course) and the town talkers. "Small towns don't have much to see," Russell says," but what you hear makes up for it." Apparently. Here's something: even in the mountains, there's slumlords. The circle sits outside talking about "Sam." The fucking asshole, as he's affectionately called. "He owns all those houses out there. And three of the hostels up in Denver." Ching - now I knew why the hostels seemed so seedy. Run by a slumlord of the mountains! Apparently he gets people to live in his houses, then takes their deposits and kicks them out, and finds ways to get away with it. Russell wants to kill him, he says.

So it is - everywhere you go, there is a slumlord, a dark figure in the shadows, corrupted and abusive, making capitalism work for them, the way it was meant to work for those who have the real savy to push it to its limits.

Then Mr. Russell tells us that he didn't go to 'nam- didn't go to Canada ("like those others," he says mockingly), but fought his draft in court. He won, he says, was acquitted, but was sworn to a ten-year gag order about the whole situation. His buddy Pete, who did go to 'nam, says nothing.

I'm not sure what's taller, the mountains or the stories, but I believe them all the same.

Then, for a topper, there's a huge double rainbow behind us, in the falls of the mountains. You could clearly see where it starts and ends, right in town.

"That's special," someone says calmly, and I am surprised, because everything special seems quite ordinary to everyone here.

"I'll see you when you come back," Woody says. And I'm sure I will.

But for now, Mo and I were off to Rocky Mountain NP. We scooted through Boulder quickly, and made it to RM around five. We took the long drive up the eastern side of the park, which goes way up into 12,000 ft, into the tundra. We looked longingly at the ice patches in the curves of the mountains, where the wind gets fierce, once a distant splotch of white from the bottom, now almost within spitting range. The wind is a force up there- getting out of the car to take some photos, I'm freezing, and almost knocked over. The sound whipping down the sides of the mountains, cruising over the treetops is something you can't quite hear anywhere else, and there's a feeling that comes with it, a feeling certain places seem to have, because of how rare there are, how powerful the forces of earth that goes into creating and forming those places, and what it means to be there at a particular point in your life. I have to apologize here for sounding tacky and sentimental about it, especially for a city boy like myself, but I dare anyone to go to these little spots on the planet and not get a little gooish about their connection with nature.

I wonder what the Romantics would have written about if they'd seen some of the power of the Americas?

It's getting harder and harder to conceive of living somewhere without being around this kind of beauty.

So. We headed back down the mountain to the visitor center, to plan our camp trip into the mountains. Two days. We choose a place isolated- Spruce Lake. We start our hike at dusk. It starts along a stream - that section is about two miles. Then, we took a wrong turn, which lead us up, but the wrong way, which we didn't figure out until we climbed about 800 ft over 3/4 of a mile. That sucked. By the time we back tracked, the sun was gone, and we broke out our flashlights.
Then next stretch was ridiculous. We climbed steadily about 1,000 ft or so. Half-way through, we were drenched in our own sweat, despite the dropping temperature in the thinning mountain air. Our packs must have weighed about 60 lbs, and we had a large sack of food and water, which we took turns carrying (that was a killer).
We were ready for a blood transfusion by time we finished that stretch, and Mo wanted to camp there, which was Fern Lake. But I insisted we go on, because, well, just because. So we took a short break next to a giant waterfall that spanned most of the distance we just climbed. Unfortunately, we couldn't really see much of it in the dark, but we could hear it's roaring on the rocks, feel the spray of water and positive ions bouncing onto us. Mo filled his water bottle from it, balancing precariously on a rock, while I looked on nervously. Then we continued. Another two miles, another 500 ft. Worse, was that it was an "unfinished" trail, from that point on. Which meant, that we basic did rock climbing. And in the dark, we had to stop several times and scout ahead, one of us going on without a pack to see if the trail continued.

Finally, finally, finally, after about five hours of the most rigorous hiking I've ever done, we found Spruce Lake. We yelled, practicaly collapsed, and laughed for several minutes, before the reality of hunger and cold took over. We ate, tried desperately to find the campsite in the dark, and then finally, got to sleep.

And yes, it does get rather chilly sleeping in a hammock at 10,500 ft. I wore all the clothes I brought with me at the same time.

Thursday, August 25, 2005


Nederlands, entrance to Rocky Mountain NP.

So, Wednesday the 17th. We slept soundly in Genesse Park, but awoke to flashlights at five in the morning. Sheriff. Right- like I had said, there was no camping in the park. Well, he took our ids, and checked them out. While we waited to hear back from the station to hear back that we weren't wanted for murder or armed robbery ( I was curious myself), the Sheriff asked why I was going to California.
"Going to grad school- an MFA in fiction."
"Ah," he said. He was tall, blonde, and looked about 21. Soft spoken. After a minute, he continued, "Write any good books?"
"Not yet," I said.
Finally the radio answered, we were cleared, and our younger Sheriff didn't give us a ticket. "I understand how it is, guys. Sorry. There's a truck stop up the road."

Colorado has rather pleasant authority people.

So we headed northwise, towards Rocky Mountain NP. We got detoured, and a little lost on some of the smaller mountain roads. We asked a woman, walking her large dogs at the break of dawn for directions.

"Y'all scared of mountain roads?" Happy that we weren't, she continued with a weird smile. "Well, then! Y'all can take 'Oh my God' road, and watch the sunrise. It's beautiful. But you know, a little...rough."

"Oh my God" road. How could we resist?

Well it took a bit to find it, but once we were on, it was worth the name. A dirt road, barely big enough for the car, curving precariously around blind edges and sheer drops, offered spectacular views of the approaching sun from all the different angles we faced. Finally, as we reached the highpoint, the road evened out, and we passed through an abandoned mining town. Gold mines. Great to see a sign that read "Jim's Gold mill" hanging, rusted, over a broken, busted out booth, gating some rigging machines. Of course, weathered, looking as if they were part of the Mad Max movie set.

After that, we drove through another town. I stopped, as it was already eightish, and I hadn't slept enough from being woken by our Sheriff Jr., and needed coffee desperately. So here's a trolley car turned into a cafe. It says, Espresso, in the window. Espresso! I ran in, unable to find the correct entrance, as it was a trolley car, and I didn't realize I had to go around the back. Off to a weird start. Out back there's table's and such. Then I walked in, and knew I wasn't in Kansas anymore: The walls were covered with anti-bush pictures and jokey cartoons, some Japanese bells were playing softly, there was a piano, everyone inside had a beard, and were in the middle of a discussion about their "project." There was a seventy plus year-old-man reading a Wired magazine article about computer hacking. There was a mountain behind us! And mills! Where the hell was I?

It turns out to be a leftover hippy community from the seventies, that maintained it's "alternative" community. Very alternative. Think Williamsburg squared in alternativeness.

Woody, a blue eyed, bearded, nice guy explained it to me.
"Yeah, I was just driving through," I said.
"Uh-oh," he laughed, intimating that that's how people get pulled in to Nederlands. That's where I was. Nederlands. Getting it's name, rumor has it, by the orignal mountian men who thought it looked liked the Netherlands, but couldn't pronounce it correctly. My question: how the hell did those mountain men know what the Netherlands looked like?

I can't continue now, I have only 15 minutes at this internet Kiosk, and I don't want to rush this, because it was on of my favorite days, so, to be continued...

P.S. I'm writing this now from Moab, UT, where I'll be for a few days. Sorry for the internet delay, it's rough to keep up, but I'll continue once I get to CA. Plus, I'll have lots of pics.

Monday, August 22, 2005


Denver II

This is the second time I'm writing this. I wrote a whole entry, then lost it, and then ran out of internet time. So here's to the second time around:

Tuesday morning in Denver. My friend Mo was coming into Denver in the afternoon. I decided to get myself some tourist info at the visitor center to find something to do for the day. It turns out, finding the visitor center was something to do for the day. Downtown Denver is a bit complicated. There are all one ways, and the main intersections all run on diagonals. Plus, the visitor center is in the heart of the 16th Ave Mall. Which is to say, the entirety of 16th Ave is a strip mall. Denver's very proud of it, but I hate strip malls, especially ones that become the cultural center of a town.

"What's to do around here?" I asked a Queensite, relocated to Denver, who worked in the cafe I bought my iced latte from.
"Hmm..." He said, staring down at the cold cuts as if to get a response from them. "Not much.. Dale- what's to do around here?"
"Umm," Dale said with a very long, thoughtful pause. "There's ESPN Zone!" he said, as if he'd pulled a gold-eared rabbit out his cap.

Right. ESPN Zone.

When I did eventually find the visitor center, I basically found out a lot about things to do outside of Denver. And there's a lot. So I decided to check up on that "Check Engine Soon, you procrastinating bastard" light that my car has been flashing at me since PA, while I had some time.

Oil's changed or reflitered, or lathered or whatever it is that they do. So that's good to go.

Around 5 I picked up Mo from the airport. Then we did some food shopping, prepping for our stay in Rocky Mountain NP. After that, we headed out to Red Rocks Amphitheater, which was definitely the highlight of Denver. If you haven't heard of it, or seen a picture, the idea is two gigantic red rocks shape the sides of the amphitheater, forming a "V" that is on a mountain looking over the whole of Denver on the right, and the mountains off to the left. The acoustics off the rocks are amazing, and the view is wonderful as well. They were showing a open air viewing of Ray, part of an outdoor film series at the rocks. The fee was ten bucks, guy the door guy let us in when we told him we only wanted to check it out for ten minutes.
"No worries," he said.

No worries.

After that, we headed back downtown to get some dinner, and of course, the only possible place was the 16th Ave Mall. Again, racially Denver's interesting. Being that the 16th Ave mall is the center of the place, groups of all races gathered together, and you'd find groups of L.L. bean preppies across the street from a gang of Karl Kani thuggies. So they shared the same party space, but there was very very little mixing of the groups. As a matter of fact, they tried their best to ignore each other as much as possible, though it only showed just how much each group was preoccupied with the other.

So we strolled down the promenade to find another interesting if disturbing facet of Denver culture: we got bothered several times, very politely, by young (teenage to mid-twenties) street beggars. Most of whom wore sneakers that cost more than my whole outfit.

I was bemused about it, until at the end of the night, after grabbing a Mexi Melt from Taco bell, a young girl sweetly and meekly asking us for change. She couldn't have been more than 17, and she had open sores all over her face, and was leaf thin. We left after that.

I think I saw more freaks and heartbreaking things in one night in Denver than many years in NYC. Maybe I'm immune to it there, I don't know. We camped out in Genesse Park, in the spot I had found the night before.

Friday, August 19, 2005


Wind Cave and arrival in Denver

I'm writing this just outside Rocky Mountain National Park, where I spent the last two days camping. Way up near the tundra at 11,000 feet. But I'm not writing about that, as there is about a four day delay in this blog. So you'll have to wait for that.

So, Monday the 15th. After camping in Wind Cave, I got up, and went on a tour of the actual cave. It was beautiful. Like Jewel Cave, Wind Cave breathes- meaning it either blows out air or sucks it in, to match the pressure outside. Sometimes as much as 35 miles per hour. It's no wonder the Black Hills were so sacred to the Native Americans, as entrances to cave like this may have been revered as entrances into the underworld, where shamans would enter to heal someone. The cool part about this cave is that it contains 90% of the "box work" in all the caves in the world. Box Work is calcite formations, that look like post office boxes: this frames that are left after the limestone is eaten away.

So after I left wind cave, I took a hike that leads to "Lookout Point," a steep climb up to the top of a hill, where there ws a once used fire tower lookout. Now that fires are controlled, and only used in a "prescribed" fashion (this is to burn down the forest to protect the prairie land of Wind Cave, which is a marked feature of WC- the mixture of prairie and forest and hills, and how the different species that thrive in each area co-exist. Anyway, enough ecology). From the top of the Fire Tower, I could see the entire WC NP, Custer State Park (where I was the day before) and even as far as the Badlands, way in the distance. Quite a view.

That evening I headed towards Denver, CO, where on Tuesday I was to meet my friend who would accompany me to California. I headed west, through the stunning countryside of Eastern Wyoming.

The ride to Denver was long enough. About six hours.

Total miles on Monday: 484. Total to date (Mon) for trip: 2,947.

I was planning to stay at a hostel in Denver. But when I arrived I found out that the office closed at 10:30, and no new people could register until the next day. I was slightly looking forward to sleeping in a bed, being that I hadn't since Chicago on Tuesday night. But the neighborhood was sketchy, and there was a guy waiting outside, who seemed a bit off. His name was "Hoe" (I'm sure that's not how it's spelled) and told me he traveled back and forth from L.A. to Denver. Not for any discernible reason. He was nice enough, but smelled a bit musty, (though I'm sure I smelled worse) and had a weird tick when he talked. He said the Hostel wasn't that clean but was better than the other ones in town. So, it was bad vibes all over.

But the good thing about Denver is a ten minute ride west on I-70 will take you from a major city to an isolated mountain. So there I went, to a place called Genesse Park, one exit past the famed Red Rock Amphitheater. There, I hammocked (illegally, I might add, as there were no camping signs everywhere, but I rationalized,"hammocking is not exactly camping, is it?") There was a spectacular view of Denver up there, and I slept soundly until about three a.m., when the mountain chill sets in.

Oh, about driving through Denver: it was sort of a flashback to 80's NYC. You could see the gentrification even driving by at two a.m. From good area, to bad, back to trendy, then bad again. On the street corners were lots of crazies- pimps, prostitutes, and various maniacs crossing the street, ignoring the traffic while singing 70's songs. The nice part was these areas were racially mixed. There were black pimps, toothless white screamers, even Indians and Spanish getting into the mix. It was, and is, the Wild West.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005


Sunday in the South Hills

Tourist day. First, upon waking, realized that I had been sleeping in front of a giant lake that I didn't see in the dark. So that was nice.

First Mount Rushmore. A nice thing to see, and though the idea of it never impressed me, seeing a sculpture carved out of a mountain is quite the experience. Even for me, unpatriotic as I can be. But, blah, blah, I stopped for a little while and drove on.

Next is the Crazy Horse mountain. Same idea as the Rushmore, but instead, the image of a native American hero, Crazy Horse. "My land is where my people are buried." Is his quote that is repeated. Very hero-like, for sure. The Crazy Horse Mountain is tremendous- all of the heads of Mt. Rushmore would fit into the side of Crazy Horse's cheek. The head is done, the gap under his arm is carver out- that is all. What more amazing was the story of the sculpture a Polish guy, whose name I don't have on hand. Spend his entire life working on the sculpture at the request of several of the last surviving members of the Battle of Little Big Horn.

That's part of the story of the west, the gold rush, and the renegging of the American government forcing the Native Americans out of the Black Hills, which were so sacred to them.

And they are, sacred. There is a dark, ominous mystery in the Pine wood forests. There are two incredible cave that breathe (air flows in and out to match the pressure inside with the pressure outside.) Many native American culture believe in an underworld, and over-world, and look for sacred entry ways into the earth, for use in there healing rituals that are done by medicine men, which use trance and visualization.

The guide at Wind Cave said that though we know the native Americans lived in this area, there is no evidence of there ever being in the cave. Perhaps it was too sacred. And now, I'm on a tour, with a dozen screaming kids and smart-ass teenagers from states like Minnesota and Iowa and Missouri.

I have been storing up some thoughts on this: tourists and parkies, bikers and displaced Indians.And me, an Italian from NYC wandering through it alone. It's a funny out west, and there's lots to think about. I'm not sure what I'm thinking about it, but I'll figure that out later.

Then I toured Jewel Cave. Then, I took the scenic animal drive in Custer State Park. Lots of bison (there are signs everywhere that say- "Don't fuck with the bison- they will fuck you up. " That's a paraphrase.) They cross form the open prairie right in front of the cars. Lots of deer, and antelope. Oh, and yapping prairie dogs. Some wild turkeys, too.

Then I raced down to Wind Cave National Park, as it was getting late. My plan was to hike off the centennial trail, go off-trail a 1/2 mile or so, and then camp out there. But I had to get there before it got too dark, and then maybe too hard to hang the hammock in the pitch black forest.

I packed in a hurry, shuffled down the trail. The trail runs along a stream, and coming out from crossing it, being a bush, there not ten feet from me was a deer. We stared at each other for a long time. Then, I said, "Hello." Not surprisingly, he didn't answer. Then for some dumb reason, I made a kissing noise, as one would a cat or a dog. I don't know why I thought that would make a deer want to approach me. Finally, he pranced away, in that graceful two-leg hop, first back legs, then front. So I went on.

I finally got set up, after climbing up into the hills with my pack. I learned this lesson: don't put up a hammock on a hill. It's a gigantic pain in the ass. I fucked with it, and it kept falling, and then it was getting dark. I thought to look for a new spot, but with nothing adequate in view, I would have to hike. So I left the stuff, and climbed higher, hoping for some solid ground. But it was getting too dark, and I was finding nothing. Making my first spot work was my only hope. So I went back down the hill, and rigged up the hammock, racing against the fading twilight. I did have a flashlight, but it was hard enough trying to fix the hammock with two hands, forget one holding a flashlight.

But I got it. Not great, but good enough to sleep, if gingerly. Feeling accomplished and satisfied with my burly backcountry abilities, I ate dinner (a few slices of Cajun turkey on whole wheat pita), and then decided to go for a midnight hike in the Black Hills.

So off I went, flashlight in hand. It was a beautiful night, very clear, and there is nothing around. I mean, as far as people. Lots of green hills, open prairie, and pine trees. I went on for a good while, looking at the stars, at the hills, at the stream, thinking about thinks absently, when suddenly about 20 feet off to my 2 o'clock, there's a growl.

Let me explain how this worked. In the dark, so I can't see what's growling, though my first impulse was to look. Then, my mind worked frantically to place the sound. I could feel how big it was by the sound. I imagined the vocal chords that were necessary to make the sound I heard, and they were the size of my head. Picture cards of animals I'd seen on Discovery Channel flashed through my mind, rapidly and in succession. A lion was the picture I got. It sounded like a lion. I stood there, holding my flashlight still, because that was obviously what had pissed him off when I had flashed it towards where the sound came from. Very still. Thinking about what could be 20 feet from me, and how dangerous it was.

But it couldn't be a lion. No lions in South Dakota, at least not in Wind Cave NP. No, a bison, I decided frozen in the dark. Then all two thousand of the sign I saw earlier that day flashed in front of me, much the same of the Discovery channel picture had. "Don't fuck with the Bison, we mean it." I didn't need convincing. A one ton horned beast that can run 35 miles per hours was to be respected. I turned slowly, and he growled again as the flashlight pointed aver at the 2 o'clock direction. Then I slowly, and calmly walked back to my hammock, and there I happily and peacefully fell asleep.


Saturday in the North Black Hills

I'll do each day in a separate post, and see how far I get. (I'm writing you from Denver, as I promised.)

Saturday. After Saturday's evening in the Badlands, I hammocked at a nearby rest area. In the morning, I drove up North, into the Black Hills. I started by driving up past Sturgis, along a scenic canyon, which was stunning, and then followed the road into the city of Lead, and then Deadwood. That is historic Deadwood, of current HBO fame. The wild west town. Well, they keep the place looking almost the same. There's Main Street, which has maybe seven or eight original establishments. The architecture was kept the same for the most part, too. Now, take that wild west scene, and important 500 bikers from Sturgis. I got a great photo of main street lined form end to end with Harleys.

Up until this point, I've been keeping to myself. Camping out, doing hikes, like that. Not too much socializing. But who could pass up an opportunity to hang out in the famed Saloon #10 (where Wild Bill Hickok was gunned down) packed with leather bound bikers? To be sure, there was more leather per square mile in South Dakota this week than anywhere in the universe. I didn't know they even made that many leather pants with the butt exposed. And there was no age requirement or limit for the pants, which I thought would have been a matter of good taste: I saw as many 8-year-olds as 80-year-olds wearing 'em out here. Fun Fun Fun.

So what am I to do? I don't own any leather. (Well, I didn't bring any with me, at least.) I couldn't compete. So, I decided I would adorn my new prized Christmas special sweatshirt. (The bright red one with the green trim and snowflakes and gingerbread sexless thing on it. With a pair of blue and grey flannel pajama pants, and my lavender hiking boots.

I swear. So I did my best John Wayne western imitation and staggered into the Saloon, pretending the looks of mockery pressed on me were actually based in fear of the vision of the self-actualized person who stood before them.

Right. Well, I got the treatment for a while. I did cause quite the scene.
"What'd ya lose a bet, buddy?" random biker says.
"Nah, his kids got it for him," his pal.
Actually the women were way harsher than the men. Most of the guys laughed, but realized ( I think, or maybe they just too drunk to care) that it was a joke. But meanwhile, the women would't give it up.
"What happened, your sister dress ya?"
I continue to play stupid. "What do you mean," I said. "This doesn't look good? I thought these colors went good together."
No one was keeping up with my irony.
They all laughed, and I laughed too, and another female biker spat, "Oh, we're laughing at you, honey, not with you."

But one fellow stood next to me by the bar, looked over at me without fully turning his body to face me, and out of the side of his mouth said, "You got balls to wear that in here, man. You got balls."

He shook my hand, and asked me where I was from.

So, I got balls, in case anyone didn't know.

So, Saturday night I went up to Sturgis, where the bike rally is based out of. Imagine ten blocks filled with four rows of bikes, mostly Harleys, lost of insane custom jobs, too. Here's something for you: there were at least four Chistian biker groups (Catholic Hell's Angels?), and three lone motor evangelists. "Jesus on Wheels." They sat on their bikes, skull t-shirt, and torn jeans with those leather open butt pants, and said to everyone that passed- "Got Jesus, brother?"

I got a photo but I was too afraid to talk to them. I took the picture and ran down the block.

Saturday night, I went into a few different bars (BTW, I changed my sweatshirt, I had enough attention for one day) and ended up in a placed called the Roadside Bar. Some cover bands playing random rock songs. Some of the girls got wacky, got naked on the dance floor (from the top up.) But overall, despite the number of mullets, long beards, leather, skull and bones buckles and t-shirts, and jackets with long frills- everyone was really nice and were a lot of fun. I like bikers. I want to learn to ride, I think that's my next project.

I left about 2:30 in the morning. I drove out of the north, barely awake, got a coffee at a gas station and drove down to the south Black Hills, not knowing where I was to sleep. It took a while, driving, exhausted, in the pitch black curving hills, to get down towards the south, where I knew some campsites where. I drove around looking for a place to stay and after going back and forth in the dark, every campground I found had NO fucking trees. Just flat dirt for tents. I don't have a tent! I hate sleeping in tents. I hate having to put them up- so much work. And uncomfortable. So, once again, I had to make my own way. I drove out into the hills and found some good trees. And there I slept.

Saturday, August 13, 2005


Badlands II

So yesterday, that's Friday, after getting a great night sleep in my hammock (it poured early on, but was done by 11, so it was warm enough, I slept like the dead under the black sky--not many stars, kinda cloudy) and after going the wrong direction on the interstate and heading 30 miles out of my way, I stopped at Wall Drug to get a few things- an inflatable pillow (my neck was killing me) some razors, and some sunblock for my hike. I made it back to the Badlands by 2.

So I took the Catle Trail- 5.5 miles out, and 5.5 back. About 11 miles, no shade. Six hours. And there was no one around for miles. It's an amazing hike, you can go off-trail as much as you dare. I did, a bit. I was surprised I did the whole thing. I got to think about a lot of stuff, I saw lots of things (not many animals- a rabbit, a rattlesnake (well, I just heard him) and a deer. Lots of cactus. But it's all about the rocks. As many colors as you can think of, crystals, fossils. The floor is like a soft clay. I took lots of pictures, I'll post them when I get my computer set-up in CA.
As I got back to the car, maybe around 8:30, a tremendous thunderstorm rolled in. So I drove up into the Badlands, and parked my car behind a small row of cliffs, and watched the lighting storm touchdown around me. It was a huge storm that swirled all around the entirety of the Badlands, the lighting touching down in front, behind, off to each direction you looked. The sky lit up like rapid fire- one flash, then a series of three or four. Then the thunder- rolling across the flat prairie land, the sound seemed to travel past me, like a truck. I sat in the dark, sometimes listening to my ipod, sometimes turning it off and just listening to the rain and thunder and wind.

At one point, though I realize a little dumb, I got out, and walked around the car. The wind almost pushed me down and the rain was pouring on me. But I was so salty from the long hike, I didn't care. The temperature changes so fast out here- I was sweating in the sun, up in the 90's, now, in the storm, it had to be in the fifties.

I camped at my same rest area outside the Badlands, but didn't sleep well, as it was very cold and it rained all night. Now I'm in Rapid City, about to head to the Black Hills. I've changed plans, since a friend of mine is in Colorado, I won't be going to Yellowstone anymore. (I'm sad about that.) But instead to Rock Mountain NP, and a few other places in there. But that's Mon or Tuesday.

For now, more South Dakota: Hot springs, Mn Rushmore, Crazy Horse, Deadwood, and some caves over the next few days. I might not check in again until Mon or Tues, in Denver.

total miles Friday: 144

total miles to date: 2,144


Sioux Falls part II

Ok, more Sioux Falls. So back on Wed morning, after sleeping in my hammock at the nearest rest area out of town, I'm having breakfast at a place called Kaladi's Coffee Legend and Bistro. Without a doubt the funkiest place in Sioux Falls.

Sandwiched between endless gun ranges, casinos (I think they're all just slot machine joints, but I don't know for sure,) pawn shops and fast food chains (there is about six of those per sq. block, and they all have Wi-Fi)--here is Kaladi's, as if transplanted from the Lower East Side.

No really. I'm drinking a sugarless white chocolate latte- that's actually really good- they have Paninni...wraps...The decor is modern shic (high ceilings lit sparingly by long hanging lights.) You order and sit and place a number on your table, and then someone brings out your food and unceremoniously, but very politely, drops it on your table. The napkins and silverware sit in a coffee mug, ready when you are. And the only thing that lets you know you're not in Williamsburg are the paintings: The types of pictures you see in those horrible corporate brainwashing posters- like Teamwork with a photo of a bunch of tools sailboating.

So, yes, it is South Dakota.

After breakfast, I went food shopping in a store called Ke Lyee (sp?) where all the employees get profit sharing (it's true, even the grocery bagger, I asked him.)

I asked the check-out girl where the library was (there was a ten second pause before she realized I said the word library, which at first I attributed to her slowness, but now I'm realizing was my accent.) Then she started to tell me how to get there, and she talked like a five-year-old. All her R' sounded as W's, and she took a breathe after every third syllable. It was amazing.
"Make a wight (gasp) on tenft.. Then go down..Wait,(gasp) no that's not wight. (gasp) Actually I don't know how to get there."
I continue to be amazed at how no one knows where anything is in town that are two sq. miles big. But everyone's confident that if I drive around, I'll find it eventually. I was galled by that- I wanted real directions.

But in fact, they were right. I did find it by driving around, and it didn't take too long.

And I do like Sioux Falls. I went to the Goodwill to buy a sweatshirt, because it's been getting rainy and cold, and I hadn't brought one. There were too many treasures in the Goodwill on Minnesota Ave in Sioux Falls South Dakota! I think it's the front of a rising fashion trend. I didn't have any room in my car, otherwise I would have bought more. But here's one item,which, I'm wearing as I type here in Rapid City Public Library: A bright red sweatshirt with a green trim around the neck. It says Christmas on the bottom and has about a dozen hearts and snowflakes on it, in a squareish pattern. And gingerbread man, too! With hearts all over him (her?) as well. There's a house on it and some candy canes. I laughed for two minutes when I first saw it. However, I don't think anyone else in South Dakota gets how funny this sweatshirt is, as I've yet to get one laugh since I've worn it. (Some funny looks, but no funny ha-ha.) They don't make quotes big enough to fit around this sweatshirt. (At least not out here, I think they're still waiting for irony to be invented.)

Fun stores to visit in Sioux Falls:

Dick's Vacuum
Joe's razor repair shop (look for the electric shaver shaped out of neon lights, you can't miss it, and, I kid you not.)

More sights on the road:
jacked up, rusted trailers with white paint that reads in choppy letters
Gas, Tool, ex 218.

Thursday, August 11, 2005



First of all, I must apologize for all the typos in my last post. I had to type in a hurry, as there is only one place in Sioux Falls to internet and that's the library, and they had an hour max usage time. And I ran out, and I didn't have time to proof read. For shame. Thanks to John for the edits.

Second, I have to talk about this: two weeks ago, I blogged (under Thursday night quotes) about a line from a Bill Knott poem that I really, really like a lot, and have had on my wall for the last year. And then, today, guess who comments on my post? Bill Knott himself. Now I'm really going to be addicted to blogging. Thanks Bill.

Back to the trip. (I'll have another two pages of stuff about Sioux Falls, a place I really liked a lot, for reasons I will eventually disclose, but I left my notebook in the car, and I don't have the energy to go get it. So I'll post that later).

I had a bad driving day. I didn't get out of Sioux Falls until noon, and then I got really sleepy after only an hour or so of driving. I had to stop, and rest, and eat. Then I bought this really crappy gas that seemed to leak out as I drove, so I had to stop for gas an extra time. I didn't get to the Badlands until sixish.

Total Miles today: about 300.

total for trip to date: about 1,700.

The Badlands:

I shouldn't even bother to write about this, but I will. There are no words for what I saw today. Driving through the Badlands at sunset, on a partly cloudy day--the sky alone, was unbelievable. Every time I turned around, it was doing something different, a new shard of light spearing through a cloud, or a new color in the haze. The rocks, the colors: Purple and yellow mounds, red and white stripes. Never seen anything like it. I'm going back tomorrow to do the killer 5 mile hike through the length of the park. Wish me luck! And hydration.

Plus, there's a big biker convention thing all over South Dakota. So there are motorcycles, everywhere. It's kind of exciting, and also annoying. Well, it's color. However, rooms are expensive because of this, and so I'll be heading into the Black Hills to hammock. Hopefully it doesn't rain tonight, but I have some plans if it does.

"Camping in the Black Hills." I sound like I'm in a fantasy novel. I should have a broadsword, or a spellbook.

The west end of South Dakota is really amazing. The Badlands are a must see. If I would have drove all 1,700 miles for only this, it would have been worth it.

More things I learned while driving:
1)You haven't heard Mason Jennings' music until you listened to it in Minnesota.
2)You haven't heard Phillip Glass until you've heard it at sunset in the Badlands.
3)You haven't heard Tom Wait's "Shiver Me Timbers" until you realize it's really about me.


Ok, so, Sioux Falls then.

Arrived in Sioux Falls wed night, about 10:30 PM. I wanted to get to an internet spot, so I had my pal John go on the internet in Queens and direct me over our cellphones using google's satellite maps. The weird wired world. So I go to a place called Gregg's Ultra subs and Casino. And it's open till two am. Welcome to South Dakota! A state of leniency, I thought. Laissez-faire. The speed limit is a brisk 75 miles an hour.

Gregg's Casino is directly across from Gary's guns. Maybe Greg and Gary are cousins.

Well, Gregg's was in fact open. I walked into the subtle yet familar beeping of slot-machines. Not as monstrous or as cacophonous as the army of machines in Atlantic City, and not as innocuous as the single lonely machines hidden in the back of candy stores in Brooklyn. But the still the same.
I didn't look over the crowd, which I regret. It was after all, a "casino" and who knows what shark types hang around? I was imagining a dice table with a dozen bikers. Gary's guns are across the street, remember. And I am just a city boy.

But sorry, no internet access here, or anywhere, but the public library.

So I stood in the parking lot facing Minnesota Ave., in front of Gregg's, and I ate a raw pepper with Hummus and some baked chips. I have a small moment, in the form of my reflection in the rear window: there I was, in South Dakota, in shorts and a cut off shirt at 10:30 pm. Alone, eating hummos, and happy. For that moment, I felt outside myself, seeing myself from above. Don't know what that means, either.

So then I decided to head to the TCBY, which, blissfully, was still open. There I ate vanilla yogurt with chocolate sprinkles, and met two sixteen-year-old girls: Holly and Molly from Menonly, WI. Pronounced me-non-oly, not men-only. Either way, it's hysterical. (To be honest, Molly was not from Menonly, but it sounds better, so there). Holly and Molly from Menonly tell me a few things of interest:

1)Sioux Falls is not quite so laissez-faire. At least, not with its teenagers. You can buy guns, gamble all hours of the night, and there's a bar on every block, but teenagers have a city enforced 11pm curfew. And if they even tried to smoke a cigarette anywhere in town, the cops would be all over them. Kids have to go out to the woods to have a smoke. And New Yorkers complain about having to walk outside.

Also, "What's to see in Sioux Falls?" I say-
"Well, the falls are nice."
The falls? I think. Then it hits me. Oh right. There's a waterfall here. Hence the name. Brilliant.

So I want to see the Falls. Funny thing is, no one in Sioux Falls knows where anything is. "Just go down that way. You'll find it." or, "It's around that way." I'm sorry, but the damn city is two square miles, directions are not that hard.

I find the falls, and they are great. I slid down the rocks, sat on a flat beige stone about twenty feet away from the falls, and wrote this post in my notebook, which is still wet from the spray. I tried to sleep out there- I brought my sleeping bag and my bug mesh, but the bugs were intent on getting into my Italian skin and I had to flee. I did sleep for an hour or so.

I drove out of town, over the border back to MN. I set up my hammock at the rest area. So my contraption worked- sort of.

I've been planning on camping in my hammock the entire trip. My only concern was the rain. So Yesterday, heading out of Chicago, I headed to Uncle Dan's Outdoor Store and bought some supplies:

50 ft of nylon cord
a 8 x 10 ft tarp.
tent stakes
a backpack
pocket knife

So last night, the thunder storms roll in, and I'm ready. I didn't even need the cords, like I thought. I threw the tarp over the hammock, and staked it down. There are some issues, but I'll work them out.

to be continued...


First, some notes

Leaving Chicago was an impulsive decision, and the right one. I finally feel like my trip is starting.

Total miles yesterday: 570.
States: Illinois, Wisconsin (which is beautiful,) Minnesota, South Dakota.

Favorite town name yesterday: Blue Earth, MN.

Things I learned in Chicago: Hammocks are environmentally low-impact.

Things I learned driving so far: the smaller the town, the bigger the grocery store.

Random thought I had while driving: Everything I've never seen makes me nostalgic for everything I've known. -- on I-90, Burr Oak Rd.

I don't know what that means, but I did when I wrote it down. Well, I do remember thinking about all my friends, I was imagining them traveling with me, in a way, and I felt so close to them even as I moving away.

More random thoughts/observations: the candy-striped telephone poles of Wisconsin Dells.

(they were actually power lines, but I like the sound of telephone poles better, so I changed it).

I almost ran out of gas in Rockport, MN.

Alternate energy sightings: Solar Panels in Ohio, and Windmills in MN. Nothing else, so far.

Animal sightings: sheep in WI, and cows in MN. Nothing else, so far.

My service engine soon light has been on since Pennsylvania. Is that bad?

New favorite song I had never heard before, that I discovered on my Ipod shuffle: A Shooting Star is Not a Star by They Might Be Giants.

The border of WI-MN is stunning. After you cross the Mississippi, the speed limit raises to 70, there's a beautiful green range of mountains on your left shoulder, and the Mississippi winding below you on your right. After seeing this, with the right lighting, there is no longer any reason to live.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005


Aches and Pains

I'm headachey and homesicky and not really in the mood for a fun city like Chicago. Last night a dozen of people from the hostel grouped up and went out to a comedy improv show called Improv Olympics. It was really good, and apparently there's a whole improv scene out here, with performers rated at different levels of skill. It's very interesting.

But I've had a dull headache for the last 18 hours, which isn't the most fun. So I'm going to drive to Sioux Falls, SD which is about nine hours. Maybe I'll go straight to the badlands. I need to look at weird rock formations and empty landscapes.

Monday, August 08, 2005


Day one.

I'm here, now, in Chicago.

Total miles for the day: 750.

I'm staying at Hosteling International Chicago, and it's an impressive place. It's like a hotel. The only bad part is there's no parking - just a lot that's gonna cost me 18 bucks a day. Ah, well.

Today I drove through: New York, Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and finally into Illinois. I like PA, lots of mountains, green hills and trees and winding roads. PA has two wonderfully named towns: Milfinville and Snoe Show, PA. Ohio and Indiana couldn't be any duller, unless you have a corn fetish.

Tomorrow, some exploring.


Taking off

Today is the day. My car is packed. I've had a marathon of goodbye parties: work, school friends, childhood friends, family, on and on. I'm sitting in an internet kiosk on Second Ave, I just burned my tongue on my coffee, and it's about 15 hours to Chicago.

I'll be checking in whenever I can.

Three weeks on the road!

Wednesday, August 03, 2005


A response.

So, I intended to post a few things. I just saw Last Days and I wanted to post a review of that. I never finished my analysis of Sherlock Jr. and capitalism, and the connections between that movie and Fellini's 8 1/2. So many things to blog about! Plus, I don't even have a computer right now. I'm living out of boxes, ready to go cross-country. But Lotte and I have been having a little debate about acting, genuineness and artifice, and her response to my post was well thought out and deserves a response in turn. So here we go again: a response to Lotte's response! The joy of internet communication.

I think that Lotte and I, conceptually, are on the same page. We both agree that Marilyn Monroe's performance in The Seven Year Itch seems genuine. And I also agree that acting, or writing, is based outside the world of truth. It must be a lie! No actor is the person they are trying to portray. No written work is real! It's a book, letters on a page. There is nothing "real" about it.

But as soon as you pick the book up, you move into that world - when the lights go down in the theater, you move into that world. Inside this world, the world of the artwork - this is where I am looking for genuineness. So I am making a destinction between the levels of reality- modes of being, perhaps. Crossing a line between the "world" of a movie or a book, and the world of reality, where you are looking at it from. (Though, that world is equally as fragile.)

Lotte says, "She (the actor) must cover her own tracks, obliterating any trace of the truth...that her speech and motions are prescribed and fictional instead of spontaneous and actual." I'm glad you brought this up, because I think it can clarify how we're looking at this differently.

In acting terms, this is bad acting. It's called anticipating. What you are looking for is spontaneity and the actual. "Acting is action." "Acting is reacting." I'm quoting Uta Hagen again. You want to be in a place where you are on the stage but you are reacting honestly to what is happening before you. Yes, it is granted, that as soon as you hit the stage it's a lie. But once we accept that world, accept that basic lie, the rest must be true.

Well, it doesn't have to be. Like one of the commenters on your blog said, sometimes stylist acting is great, and a work of art in its own way. Again, a different mode of creativity, a different system upon which to judge art.

I liked Lotte's little walk on the deconstuctionist wildside. I'll jump along. If acting is a lie, and writing is one too, which, in the terms that Lotte describes it, I agree it is - is not consciousness a lie too? Is there a difference between how an actor takes on a role, and how one is playing a role put before them in reality? A role of a mother, or father, or child: You model your behavior on what you see, not much different than an actor would. I question how much truth there is in anyone's "performance" as a human.

How often have the thoughts in your head come from a script? A movie you saw, or a book you've read? People think in cliches! That's why they are all over Into to Creative Writing classes. Isn't the voice of your consciousness a free floating narration? And just as a narration seeks to deceive to create verisimilitude, doesn't the very act of thought do the same?

Yet, if nothing is quite real - all the signifiers do point to each other, then, what is "real" to look for at all? If it's silly to look for truth in art, it's equally silly to look for it in "reality." Because either way, you way to take on certain assumptions to even bother to fight over it, like we have.

Thanks for all this, Lotte! It's been fun to think about.

P.s. Quoting the end of Lotte's post, that starts by quoting me:

"It's the one golden rule of all art forms — make it new."

Novelty is only insisted upon in "high art," which is, of course, neither interesting nor comprehensible to most people. Furthermore, novelty has only been especially valued in art over the last few centuries; only recently have artists felt the suffocating pressure to "do something fresh," whereas before they could content themselves with "doing something well." I could launch into my Utterly Unsupported Theory that pins this development on the maturation of capitalism and the commercialization of art — but it's really not germane. I seek only to place this so-called "golden rule" in context, and show that it is not an all-encompassing truth of art-making, but a strange quirk of recent history and limited audience.

Good point about defamiliarization. It is a recent way of interpreting art. But it is the current way, in that it has for some reason (perhaps the development of capitalist society, hmm) evolved from preceding paradigms. And I don't think that a century long paradigm for critiquing and creating art deserves to be marginalised by being called a "quirk" (gasp!) Plus: who cares what most people do! I'm usually the least interested in that. Most people enjoy silly Hollywood action movies. Most people don't want to think on a regular basis. Actually, in this highly commercial, capitalist state - "high art" as you call it, is not really that "high," except in comparision to the mindless drivel the society forces upon its members on a daily basis. But the discussion about doing something "well," versus doing something new, is a long and interesting one, and would require much more than an afterthought.

Monday, August 01, 2005


Cross country Plan

So I figured out a rough skeleton guide for my trip in my '93 Saturn to Californ I A.

I depart Monday the 8th at five a.m., and head west. First stop will be that afternoon, in Ohio. Maybe Cleveland, or maybe Toledo. Haven't decided yet. I'll spend the night there, and then up to Chicago. A few days there. Then, up further north to Milwaukee. But that'll be a short stop. Then - more driving. West and north through South Dakota, until I get to the Badlands. I plan on exploring S.D. for at least four days. Then West again, across Wyoming, to Yellowstone, and spend a few days there.

Then - south! Down to Utah, Salt Lake City, then back East a bit to get to CanyonLands, then south again from there - hit the Grand Canyon, then back west for the final run - into Las Vegas (I have to stay there a few days, too) before finally landing in Irvine.

Three weeks! Can't wait. I've been waiting to use my hammock that I got in the Yukatan a few years ago, and I'll get to - sleeping in the campsites near the National Parks.

If anyone can recommend to me anywhere good along the way, I'm listening.