Thursday, July 29, 2010

Justin, Jenny, and General Custer

Hi everyone!  It seems like a long time since I last updated this blog.  Much too much has happened to relay it all, but I can touch on the highlights. 

Today we are staying with our friend Doran.  He goes to EMU and lives in Freeman, South Dakota.  Last night we stayed in Parkston.  The pastor of the UCC church there bought us a hotel room!  We ate tacos that we made on our camp stove, caught up on world events thanks to Stephen Colbert and John Stewart, and slept well.  This morning we woke up to rain.  Yes, we rode in the rain today (we're working on the soggy postcards as we speak).  Fortunately, we only had to ride 35 miles to get to Doran's house.  We are relaxing, blogging, and playing board games.

Doran' has not been the only familiar face that we have seen this week.  After riding through the Black Hills last weekend, Joe's brother Justin and sister Jenny met us in the Badlands.  Justin has been serving in Laos with SALT for the past year and is home for a two week break.  He was willing to spend 20+ hours of his short time state-side in a car traveling to see us.  We had a great time visiting with them.  We drove through the Badlands, managed to find a glass of water at Wall Drug, and spent a couple hours going east on the interstate to make room in our schedule to spend time with them.  We enjoyed the respite and the chance to visit with people with out the semi-pretenses that are natural when you are talking to people that you do not know.

Jenny recently wrote a paper about the little-known conflict in the Black Hills.  Her paper analyzes the issues related to land disputes between the Sioux Nation and the United States Government.  As a tourist in the Black Hills, I saw no evidence of the long-standing conflict, but, as described in the paper, the first step to resolving the conflict peaceably is to educate people about it.

The Sioux native Americans inhabited the area that is now South Dakota long before any European settlers came to the area.   They were promised the Black Hills and surrounding land in the 2nd Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868, but in 1874 Lt. Col. George Custer found gold in the Black Hills.  In an attempt to cash-in the previously  undiscovered mineral wealth in the area, the United States pressured the Sioux to sell the land by making food-aid dependent on the sale of the land.  When this did not work, the United States took the land.  Since this time, the United States have invested a lot in the area in the means of tourism and extracted exceptional amounts of gold and other resources.  The conflict lingers today as the Supreme Court and the U.N. have condemned the governments taking of Sioux land, but they have yet to return it.  The Sioux, who often live in demeaning poverty and suffer from its related effects, do not wish to accept monetary restitution, but desire the land of the Black Hills because  it would be source of lasting income and restore their dignity and traditional homeland.

According to Jenny's paper (and peacebuilding experts that she cites) it is important that people are informed of conflicts like the Black Hills conflict.  The United States has the position of power in this situation and will not back down until more citizens declare the maltreatment of the Sioux unacceptable.

When we are in Iowa City and have couple of days off I hope to take a look at a few of many conflicts around the world that are related to oil and our car centered culture.  I hope that if we can learn more about how the extraction of oil is connected to violence, we will begin to consider the methods of corporations, policies of governments, and gluttonous consumption habits of ourselves to be unacceptable. 

Until then, we will be riding through Manson and Des Moines and asking ourselves: is this heaven?

Friday, July 23, 2010

Traveling and Nature

"Right at the heart of American Conservationsim, from the beginning, has been the preservation of spectacular places.  The typical American park is in a place that is "breathtakingly beautiful"or wonderful and of little apparent economic value.  Mountains, canyons, deserts, spectacular landforms, geysers, waterfalls--these are the stuff of parks.  There is, signifigantly, no prairie national park.  Wilderness preserves, as Dave Foreman points out, tend to include much "rock and ice" and little marketable timber.  Farmable land, in general, has tempted nobody to make a park.  Wes Jackson has commented with some anxiety on the people who charge blindly across Kansas and eastern Colorado, headed for the mountains west of Denver.  These are nature lovers and sightseers, but there are utterly oblivious or bored by the rich natural and human history of the plains.  The point of Wes Jackson's anxiety is that the love of nature that limits itself to the love of places that are "scenic" is implicitly dangerous.  It is dangerous because it tends to exclude unscenic places from nature and from the respect that we sometimes accord to nature.  This is why so much of the landscape that is productively used is also abused; it is used solely according to standards dictated by the financial system and not at all according to the standards dictated by the nature of the place.  Moreover, as we are beginning to see, it is going to be extremely difficult to make enough parks to preserve vulnerable species and the health of ecosystems or large watersheds."
-Wendell Berry, Conservation Is Good Work

I read this essay back in eastern Oregon.  I will always remember that first part of the trip as my first encounter with somewhere that is truely desolate.  I made note of this passage and decided to revisit it after passing through the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone (and naturally, much more desolate high desert and a seemingly infinite amout of farmland).  I wanted to come back to it becuase I figured that after riding though mile upon mile of farmland and after visiting two national parks and a national monument, I could read it in a more informed manner.  Now, revisiting it, I am slightly confused.

I am confused because now when I read this passage I think of a number of things:
-I think of how lonely I was in eastern Oregon
-I think of how water is such a necessity for farming (and a touchy subject) in the high desert
-I think about the overcrowded cattle farms that do not have any grass in sight
-I think of how I could not take my eyes off of the mountians in the Grand Tetons
-I think of the slight depression that I felt as Yellowstone lake disapeared from view for the last time
-I think of the gigantic coal mine we saw outside of Gillete, Wyoming
-I thnk about how many RVs I have seen
-I think about the desire to ride fast that I get when I am bored
-I think about the animals that are protected in Yellowstone, but whose migratory habits are disrupted by fences outside of the park to the south

These things that I think about seem to conflict with each other.  I cannot deny that I have been very bored at times, but during these times I have seen things that trouble me or make me think.  These are things that I would be ignorant to or at least would not have the time to think about if I was not on a bicycle.  Sometimes I wish our entire country was "park worthy".  This would make for an exciting bike tour, but fortunately for our countryss economy, it isn't.  I, therefore, think Berry (and others) are on to something when they consider how our vacation habits affect our view of nature.  I may be bored by some places, but I find myself connected to them none the less.  I find myself asking questions about the issues that I see as I ride and wondering what it might be like to live in these places.

On Tuesday we were riding from Sheridan to Gillete.  Early in the afternoon a thunderstorm blew up behind us and chased us for a while.  When it began to catch us I stopped to put my wallet in my waterproof bags and almost instictivly stuck out my thumb at a passing truck.  To my suprise the man stopped and helped us load our bikes in the back.  He drove us out of the rain (we never actually got wet).  We learned a lot as we rode with him.  He works in the methane business.  Underneath the ground there is methane trapped in the coal.  There is a huge infrastructure in place to extract this gas and pipe it to Chicago and California.  He also drove us by the coal mine and told us about the issues related to it.  We learned a lot from this man.  He answered the questions we had about all the things we had seen while riding that day.  He dropped us off in a parking garage where we met  a reporter.  Through our short ride with this man, we learned about the complex local issues of this seemingly boring area.  As we ride we have been able to observe and experience local depth and then learn more about this depth through conversations with local people.

I don't think that bike touring is for everyone (occasionally I wonder if its even for me), but when it comes to experiencing an honest image of nature and working toward the greater ethic of conservationism that Berry calls for, it is probably the way to go.  We are in the midst of nature the entire time that we are traveling.  It is hard not to care about it and respect it when you are in it.

Tonight we are sleeping in the basement of a Methodist church in Sundance, WY (as in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid).  We are pretty pooped.  Today is our first day off since Jackson Hole (and it's only sort or a day off because we biked 20-something miles this morning).  We ride to South Dakota tomorrow!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010


I spent last night and part of this moring writing a more-or-less thougful piece about the national parks.  When I went to publish it something went wrong and now its gone.  We need to get on the road so I'll just give you a quick update.

We just made bacon and eggs in the kitchen of the United Church of Christ in Sheridan, WY.  They graciously opened up their doors and let us sleep in their building last night.  Today we ride toward Devils Tower.  It should take two days to get there.  After leaving yellowstone a day early we seem to be close to on schedule. 

Friday, July 16, 2010

Jackson Hole, Jackson Hole

We are now in Jackson Hole.  A good Samaritan back home bought us a hotel room which provided a nice restful night sleep.  The scenery here is gorgeous, distracting, and quite a relief  after eastern Oregon and southern Idaho.  We enjoyed some extraordinarily over-priced buffulo burgers last night and are getting out of town this afternoon before we blow the budget on trying to sustain our high calorie diet in this expensive tourist town.

The last four days of cycling have been quite the breeze (tailwinds propelled out 90ish pound rigs at a 15, sometimes 20 mile per hour rate).  Spirits have been high because going fast is fun and covering long distances feels good.

Covering long distances might not feel as good in the near future as we have to travel the 900 or so miles from Yellowstone to Freeman, SD in 11 days (thanks to poor planning and being a day behind schedule).  We are going on faith that we will make it to Iowa on time (and are keeping our fingers crossed and hoping to meet a nice elderly couple in an over sized RV who offer to give a ride for a little bit).  We are going to do our best to put our fears aside and enjoy the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone over the next couple of days before heading out into Wyoming, the land that our banjo-toting, lumber-jacking, earth-wandering good friend Adam Leclair deems "unforgiving".

One conversation that keeps repeating is about rain and when it will fall.  We each have guessed a state.  Nate thinks that it will happen in Wyoming, Joe thinks we'll get wet in South Dakota, and I don't think we'll use our fenders until Iowa.  We thought it would be fun if all of you (our friends and family) got in on this sort of pool.  Guess what date we will get rained on first (for example: Tuesday 8/3).  You can post your guess as a comment on our blog or you can write your guess on the back of a black 160GB iPod loaded with every season of car talk and mail it to us.  I may not like cars, but I do like car talk.  If your answer is selected at random from the hundred of correct answers we receive, we will send you a completely saturated postcard.

We will not be able to access computers unless Wyoming has a grinch/Saul-to-Paul-esque conversion experience and suddenly becomes "forgiving" and flows forth with roast beast and interweb access.

We hope everyone is having a great summer!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Freeway Isn't Free

I have had a special affinity for this state ever since I bought a cordory tucker hat bearing its name from Gift & Thrift for $.075.  I still hold many aspects of this state (especially Boise) in high regard.  Such is not the case for its interstate system.

We are in Twin Falls, ID staying with EMU student Cody Stutzman and his family.  We arrived late last night after two tough days.  We enjoyed dinner with his parents, Lyn and Doug, when we arrived at around 10:00pm.  We then showered and slept for a long time (more than 14 for nate).  Today has been relaxing.  Joe watched the World Cup final and I read a copy of EMU professor Linford Stutzman's book "Sailing Acts" that I found on the Stutzman's coffee table.  It tells the story of the two summers that he and his wife Janet spent tracing the apostle Paul's routes around the Mediterranean Sea.  I really identifiesd with his story and could understand the trials and tribulations of their endeavor.  It was comforting to read about how he coped with the challenges that accompany rewarding experiences.

One challenge for us occured when we were trying to leave Boise.  We recently learned that out west, sometimes the freeway is the only road that connects two towns (bikes aren't allowed on the freeway for good reasons).  Such was the case with Boise and a town 50 miles away called Mountain Home.  Being on bikes and all, we tried to get to Mountain Home on dirt roads, but could not find the right ones.  We then had to back track and take route 78 which took us about 50 miles out of the way.  This made for two really long, hot days.  Fortunately, the night in between Boise and Twin Falls, we met a friendly sheriff who invited us to sleep in the town park of Grandview.  That worked out well with exception of the dog, the skunk, and the sprinklers.  After riding 100 miles on Friday and 90 miles into a headwind on Saturday, Cody and his fiancee picked us up, and  we were very thankful.

My advisor at EMU, Nancy Heisey, just chatted me on facebook and offered to pray for hospitality and wisdom for us to know where to look for hospitality.  We could use this over the next couple of weeks.  We hope to stay with people from the United Church of Christ in Pocatello on Tuesday night.  We have not been able to find someone to stay with in Jackson Hole, WY so we may not go there.  In that case we may just go through Yellowstone.  We do not at this point have any connections between Pocatello and Freeman, SD.  If anyone has any connections in northern WY or southwestern SD please call me: (860) 490-4452 and leave a message.  If you don't have any connections, we appreciate your prayers.

We are having fun and trying to stay cool.  Wyoming here we come!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

"We can not have all the things that please us..."

One of the nights we spent far from what is called civilization , under a darkening sky I pulled out my iPod.  Listening to a few songs before I close my eyes is one of the only ways to escape the depression that come with the end of the day.  The other way to escape that we have found is to listen to Joe read from "The Wisdom of the Enneagram".  

It is stressful to ride down the road looking for a suitable place to sleep.  We reach a certain mileage and then begin "keeping an eye out".  We are looking for a spot that is secluded, comfortable, quiet, and legal.  They have been places like a church parking lot, a town park (semi-legal = more stressful), a patch of grass next to a remote airfield, and a highway rest area.  Our stress is enhanced by our fatigued bodies.  Our  emotions are magnified and our senses are put on edge.

This particular night found us in a Oregon Department of Transportation storage area,  These occur every 10 miles or so along Highway 20 in eastern Oregon and are used to store road making material and sand for keeping the highway safe in the winter.  As I lay in my sleeping bag, hidden from the road by a large pile of gravel, the song "Annabelle", by Gillian Welch and David Rawlings played on my iPod.  The chorus of this song goes:

"we can not have all things to please us
No matter how we try
Until we've all gone to Jesus
We can only wonder why"

This song took me back to a conversation we had with our hosts, Sacha and Michael, the night before.  We stayed up to one in the morning talking about many things including: why most films are poor quality, how we wish we had the time and skills to garden, how its hard to be handy if you grow up in Los Angeles, what its like to not "settle down" in one spot, why our generation does not have the same degree of righteous anger that previous generations had, how in this "post modern time" when corporations are more powerful than governments many our conversations and questions can be answered by Wendell Berry (or as Nate says wendellberry like strawberry).

Another thing we talked about was our experience touring thus far.  One thing we realized is how much thought, stress, and effort goes into our basic necessities like food, water, and shelter.  Being on tour has really brought us back to the basics of survival.   Never before have we not known where we will sleep that night.  Never has our food been limited in such a way (by money, weight, and nutrition), and never before have we not been able to just get water from a faucet when we are thirsty.  We can not have all the things that please us, no matter how hard we try.  This has been very humbling, can be incredibly stressful, and an entirely new and eye-opening experience.  

Even more than this, we have learned the importance of people.  Not just in a cheesy "people are so hospitable" way (people are connected to our other basic needs, food and shelter are located near people and are sometimes generously given to us by people), but also in a visceral desire for social interactions.  Riding through eastern Oregon where a town consists of a single store that is open three days a week and such towns can be 50 miles apart is accompanied by an anxiousness that is not present when riding through more populated areas.  If we have been camping for a couple nights in a row we begin to feel a sublime, but intense loneliness. We wish we could stay with people every night of our trip, but we can not have all the things that please us, no matter how hard we try (eastern Oregon).  We feel this unbelievably strong and deep desire to be with people.  Not because they give us food, but because we have an unmet need for relationship and interaction when we are on the road.

I drifted off to sleep to David singing harmony to Gillian's charming twang and awoke to the most beautiful night sky that I had ever seen.  It's beauty redeemed our seemingly pitiful camping situation.  This feeling did not last as the distant yelping coyotes made us very uneasy.

We are learning a lot about grace.  Grace that is something small and beautiful in the midst of a scary situation.  Grace that is not just the hospitality of a handful of specific people, but also grace that comes though the presence of and interactions with humanity.  

We are in Boise and enjoying the hospitality of some very specific people.  Thank you so much Paula and Ken.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Come Thou Fount

This song will no longer congure up childhood memories of sunday morning church services, but instead will send me into awful flashback of Nate skidding fingers-first across the pavement on route 126 just west of Eugene.  The first (and hopefully only) crash of our ride occurred when Nate was inspired by bicycle-tour delerium to launch into a rousing version of the traditional hym "Come Thou Fount", became distracted by the spirit of the song (and the vocal solo that replaced the words he didn't know), and bumped into Joe's back wheel.  This set him off balance and sent him sliding across the pavment.  Fortunately his injuries were minor.  After some impromtu first aide, he rode off with a dislocated fingernail and 3x3 patch of missing skin on his upper-thigh.  Moral of the story: know the words to songs.

Yesterday was the first real climb of our trip.  We crossed the Cascade range through McKenzie pass (5,300ish ft.).  This required over 4,000 feet of climbing.  Fortunately, we had 20 miles to gain this altitude.  The climb was not as steep as many roads out east (reddish knob, massanutten, talcott mtn.), but its length was unlike anything that i could previously conceptualize.  The pass featured an "observatory" that offered breath taking views of "the sisters", which are 3 mountains each between 8,000 and 10,000 feet.  We averaged 25-30mph for 10 miles on the east side.  It was fun.

We reached Bend yesterday evening and are staying with Michael and Sacha.  They belong to a Mennonite church plant that is pastored by a man named Sam Adams, who is firends with Tato, who is a Member of "The Church of the Servant King", which is very well connected to Wipf and Stock publishing, where Charlie works, who went to Duke with Peter Dula, who is one of our profs at EMU.  Yup, its kind of like "7 degrees of Kevin Bacon", except is like "how many degrees can we be removed from a person and still be allowed to sleep in their house".

They have been hospitable to us as if we were life-long friends.  Michael gave us some suggestions about how to view, "his favorite place on earth", Yellowstone and Sacha, who is a school chef, has helped us reimagine our daily menu.  Nate and Joe are at Trader Joe's right now stocking up on high-energy and nutritional foods.  We hope these dense and nutritional foods will prove to be cheaper in the long-run.

We need to stock up on food before our next 4-5 days because no one lives where we are going.  This is going to be the first mentally tough section.  The landscape will not vary and we can expect to sleep out every night.  Our next "destination" where we have arranged shelter is Boise, ID.

I hope to write more about bicycling and advocacy, but I have not had time or energy to put those thoughts together.  Maybe in South Dakota I will have less to write about and be able to squeeze some of that in.