As was mentioned last week, there continue to be technical difficulties in rural America. Thus, we’re without an uploaded cast for week two. You’re going to get a more filled out transcript for now 😁
Makes the time fitting that we should talk about the elephant in the room, (rural) America. It’s more than just bad internet connections. It’s grandeur, even in its blasted expanses; it’s hope, even as there’s none; it’s a new perspective, even with (or because there’s) a pandemic continuing to ravage the American populace. It’s pride in the ashamed. It’s so much more than just these things.
After the following post, you may have an evolved understanding of a certain psychology in different parts of the United States. I’ve certainly come to new terms with the country as a whole because of a week-long trip I took at the start of May 2020. The plan had been to spend a month on the road, touring the wild places I’ve not yet given myself time to enjoy.
However, with many states locked down and a person not wanting to visit those that weren’t, while the national parks were closed, much of the proposed adventure were untenable. It makes sense to scrap such a venture: Despite being away from people, interactions would need to happen at sometime, while the danger of solo longer-term travel is a valid consideration.
In exchange, I made arrangements to meander in more-or-less a straight line to New York State where I’d visit family after an additional two weeks in self-isolation. The tenants of the trip remain the same:
- Minimal human contact to the extreme.
- Masks and gloves when doing things like using washrooms or gas stations.
- Eat and drink of my supplies (2.5 weeks of water, 1.25 months of food).
- Sleep in my car or tent.
- Enjoy myself, abandoning preconceived daily structure and being chill about the journey.
FIRST ADVENTURE – UTAH AND FUEL
With all of my possessions taking up 5×10 in a 10×10 space or in my car, I set forth from Lake Las Vegas on May 2nd after a horrendously peaceful morning next to the water. Places I’d not seen in a long time, things that elicited memories of years of late nights with friends, food, music, joy, anger, sadness, passed as I traveled up a sliver of Nevada into Utah, a beautiful place.
The road took me past my nostalgia of Grand Canyon camping, Zion hiking, and those that came along. As the memories of years gone by flew away like power lines, I started making new ones.
Into strange places I drove, places of irregular gullies and ravines, a wide, basking splendor of high and low tops. These dropped away as if a curtain rod had fallen, revealing an expanse of plain bordered on its sides by more mountains and hills.
Now, to my shame. I ran out of gas in Utah’s high places! Though maybe I exaggerate… Anyway, with so many gas stations, I figured I’d last through the mountains I passed. I know now they were part of a national park, devoid of any such facilities.
Coming out of the mountains, I calculate I had a third of a gallon left in the tank. Approximately 15-18 miles. Alarms pinged and warning lights flashed. I pulled the car off the highway to search my phone with no data available for fuel.
Luckily, there happened to be a town but 12, 15 miles away from where I was. Completely perpendicular to my course, it proved my only hope.
Leveraging my Toyota Prius’s electric capability, I tooled North to the town, thinking awhile that I could jog, fill a water bottle with gas if need be. As I watched my gauge estimate 18, 15, 13, 8 miles left, I entered the town as the Sun cut off on the mountainous horizon. And there, to my elation, was the single-pump, self-service gas station.
I spent the night in the town, walked through dark, dark streets to its cemetery and back again. Sagging houses were neighbored by those erect, yet all missed the landscaping or paint those in cities commonly see. Some shacks gaped black holes of doors and windows at me, yet those that didn’t threw new shadows from the scrap and vehicles and tools left in the yard.
All this under a massive expanse of stars I’d not seen in years and years.
I wonder if that fear of dark caves (or their modern equivalent, abandoned buildings without light) reminds us that first there is no human fire there, and second that monsters lie in caves, as nearly all human myth has beasts in the dark…
SECOND ADVENTURE – COLORADO AND SHOCK
Utah gives way into the =incredible= mountains of Western Colorado, and its even more incredible inclines and declines among trees and snow.
Gassing-up and driving through tight gorges, I see people. These adventure-seeking Coloradoans bike and run and go everywhere. Neither the pandemic nor the snow grant them masks, nor are the paths they trod wide enough to distance themselves socially.
Shock hits me. I’m set about thinking on the culture and mentality of the people in the place. If I only could have been humbled by knowing what I’d come to see.
The beauty of Colorado’s West dies at Denver. Passing into the East leaves no doubt.
Plains. Plains for as far as the eye can see stretch for mile-after-unobstructed-mile. Ravines and tree lines do exist, but in such small numbers as to be the most interesting bits of scenery.
Though, I’m remiss to not mention the clouds. Storms of such bulking mightiness as one can only get on the plains bless the sky. Language fails me to describe it any other way.
THIRD ADVENTURE – KANSAS AND DISREGARD
Gas is incredibly cheap here. That’s a thing.
Its people scoff at the COVID disaster. They wear not mask nor glove nor have much mind of space either. It is plain by the stickers and signs and clothing that the sitting president is something akin to God here, as these reminders outweigh the “Jesus saves” and anti-choice placards. This is ironic, as the actions of the people show a disregard for those moving about.
No love lost as I cross quickly into the forests of Missouri.
FOURTH ADVENTURE – MISSOURI AND REVELATION
No masks worn in the gas stations. Children and parents alike crowd together without regard.
I leave the civilization for the Lake of the Ozarks. After a pleasant afternoon comes the rural country through winding back roads.
What a country.
Fields and flowers and forests and flowing water. Nature is in power here.
Nature is in power over the peoples, too.
Small huts called houses are consumed by vines. Brush and grass swallow automobiles. Machines rust, concrete cracks, the roads are pitted.
I see much, and nothing, and it has me thinking…
These are little places, the lost places, the places entering or having long since passed into decrepitude. I find myself traveling through the rural destruction of Missouri.
It strikes me at that moment why so many in such places seem … angry, helpless. The feelings conveyed when one turns on the news, talks to the person in bluejeans while adding gas to the car.
The reason would seem to lie in being around the perpetual destruction of the past. As houses dissolve into nature, paint peels and grass grows. There is no basis for self-respect left in the place of grain and trees. What a person sees every day is the death of the work of their forefathers and a constant reminder of their own pending oblivion. And there’s nothing they can do in their towns to stop it.
Perhaps it is nostalgia, romanticism, or an inability of imagination, or all these causes and more, that these adults stay in such a place. They have children there, enabling and encouraging them to stay in the psychologically ruinous rural disaster. Is it too harsh to come to such a conception? Well, the next generations are left to play witness to:
- The destruction of their grandfathers’ world.
- The human failings, incompetencies, and inabilities of their fathers.
- Their own inabilities to maintain a legacy long since rotted in the bush, the mantle given to them without consent by their parents. They are supposed to attain riches and far-flung wants, says Media, says their friends and cousins who’ve escaped for brighter shores, yet they can’t. The tools they have at their disposal, left by their sires, are meant for tillage and ages long since having abandoned the rust-encrusted grain silos.
It’s true that the old start wars, young fight them. The old set traps for the young, naive to fall into. The old curse their own young through bitterness or ineptitude.
Is this a horror I witness? My mind reels at the implications. The Prius is stopped by the side of the road. If true, these observances explain and correspond with so much: Dismissal of change, the glorification of “good ol’ days”, manifest destiny, cultural and racial pride…
When the population is unable to acquire what they are expected to have (materialism, consumerism glorified in televised culture), these populations hold resentment towards (or worse, belief in) the dreams of their parents, when they pretend to hope for a future as also surrounded by the evidence of a lost past that refuses to completely rot under the hot and humid sun. The cycle of trial, failure, and tasking others to try has no choice but to continue.
Humans see patterns. That’s what we do. So those stuck in a dwindling cycle must be aware that what has been tried by others for years does not work.
We also are keen to rationalize away our laziness and wrongness inherent in our choices. We abstain from responsibility as it comes to the negative consequences of our actions (or inaction). Therefore, the method is not considered wrong, merely that some external force caused it to fail or it needs “just one more try”.
We push away those we resent and those who objectively get better than us through ways alien to our own. Thus, outside influence in decision making is lost. Thus, the only influence left is from the few voices that:
- Have failed.
- Are miserable because they see their failure yet refuse to admit to it.
- Would like company in their misery.
- Rationalize sunk costs of failure, justifying the same efforts be made by others.
To perpetuate the cycle, those who’ve found themselves wasted and stuck in a country that’s left them behind do what they must:
- Encourage others to stay with them, feinting helplessness.
- Dull the will of others to leave, usually through a lack of education.
- Trap others with them, usually through marriage and the begetting of children.
- Make it easy for others to stay with them by providing parental or financial support.
- Shame any change from the above course.
- Guilt others who consider leaving or self-sufficiency by either claiming the other is disrespecting legacy and abandoning the miserables in left in the cycle.
With these points in mind, it is easy to understand how quickly and fully a person could become trapped in the cycle of oblivion.
But humans won’t be forgotten. Thus they rail against change and others and those that have grown out of nostalgia and failed history. For this tragedy, I weep.
FINAL ADVENTURE – NEW YORK AND HOME
I no longer care much to stop to see things. I’ve come to know too many things already.
Yet, I still eat my daily meal. This meal finds me at Lake Sara at the kayak launch. It’s private, quiet. The path to the plot is through forest. It’s… peaceful. I am at peace.
The fish jump, the clouds sail, a fisherman goes in circles though grants me a wave in greeting. Birds perch and water snakes slither. Peace.
As I pick up my picnic to go, I realize there is something in the green, blossoming moss next to my seat. It’s fur.
The race is on to meet-up by Mothers Day. To New York I make haste. The country passes in a blur. Wind whips and dark clouds bring with them cold rain.
Western New York! There is virtually no traffic here.
To my last night on the road, I rest at by far the nicest facility of my journey. It overlooks a lake, is away from road noise, has very clean and spacious washrooms, has vending and microwaves, solar power, hardly any others parked, and is absolutely splendid. I could have not asked for better sleep or peace.
Cold cannot be ignored. I wear pants instead of shorts for the first time. For the coming meeting, I groom and shave. It wouldn’t pay to appear too haggard from the drive 😅
Cautiously and curiously, I meander through hills and forests and lakes. I encounter the farms and rolling fields of the Finger Lakes. And around a corner of tall, lush trees, I find what I’ve been driving to all along.
THE WRAP UP
Thank you for staying along with this adventurous tumble, reader. After a week and 2800 miles of driving across the continental United States, a few things bear repeating:
- The US is gorgeous and wondrous and broad.
- The US is large enough to be lost in, full enough to survive in at little cost, but short enough to get through in under a week.
- Driving on the road is a sincere kind of meditation; I highly recommend it.
- The US response to the COVID-19 pandemic is troubling.
- The tragedy of rural America is… I need to think on it more to understand. Something terrible continues there. Or maybe it’s the system in the rest of the country. I don’t know what to do about it.
- Cycles are perpetuated; what harmful cycles are you and I keeping up?
- I can live in my Prius for a month, should I only need gas if lacking a camping spot!
Wow. A long one. Not as long as the drive, though! What have you observed having spent any time in the US? 🤔 How far off am I on some of these insights?
Stay safe, stay healthy. Maybe talk with you next week! Cheers for now ~