Friday, May 20, 2016

Joe Omundson

Portland to Moab in 5 days

So! I arrived in Moab on May 16. The night before I got here I filmed this video

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For today, I will recap the road trip I took to get here. I like to do that after I travel so that I can read back on it later and remember what happened.

Day 1: I left Portland right at noon. I drove East on I-84, past Hood River and the Dalles, and this was by far my longest stretch of interstate-driving. At some point I took a highway heading northeast and drove up through Walla Walla, Washington, through some rural areas. I had looked up a campsite on the Snake River which was about 20 miles off of my route. I got there and it was a pretty place, and it was free, so that was cool, but I set up my hammock amidst some tall grass, and this was a big mistake. Grass is the only thing I know of that can sometimes trigger an allergic reaction in me.

My legs, eyes, and hands became insatiably itchy and I started breaking out in hives. My eyes became swollen and bloodshot. At this point I wasn’t sure if the problem was the direct contact with the grass, or simply being on the valley floor of the grassy area, so I decided to bail. I drove back the way I had come, a few miles, up to the top of a plateau where there would be no accumulation of grass in the air, and found a turnoff which appeared to be the start of a powerline service road. Nobody would bother or even notice me there. Though I continued to have a reaction to the grass, I made the most of my night and actually had a very cathartic time. I drank 4 beers, blasted some music, danced and thrashed around, took photos, and expressed to the world some feelings I had been having. Eventually I got tired and passed out.

Attempted campsite at Snake River:

Powerline road campsite:

Fucked up!!!

Day 2: In the morning my eyes were still swollen and dry. I was surprised not to feel hungover. I stopped for antihistamines at the first convenience store I saw, which I believe was just over the border into Idaho. This part of the drive was again rural and beautiful, but I grew weary of the landscape; constantly following a river at the bottom of a winding valley, I felt enclosed, with no sense of the scale of the terrain or what progress I was making. It felt like a treadmill. Eventually, to my relief, the road left the river and climbed up to a pass which marked the entry into Montana. I descended toward Missoula, and 583 miles after leaving Portland I finally had to stop for diesel, having burned under 11.5 gallons. 50 MPG! I love this car! I drove into Missoula and found some WiFi to look up another campsite. I found a free area maybe 20 minutes from town, drove there, and found a spot. It was a hilly forested area. I put on some music again and busted out some awesome dance moves.

583 miles for 23 bucks

Day 3: My route for the day, which I had tried to save on my smartphone (which does not have cellular service, hence the WiFi stops), wasn’t loading properly, so I stopped at the first business I found, a restaurant attached to a store, and they let me use their internet. Route saved successfully, I made my way south. From here on, all the way to Moab, I thought the landscapes were phenomenal. I made a stop near Helena for some food and then continued to West Yellowstone, one of the entrances into Yellowstone NP. They wanted 30 bucks just to enter the park! I wasn’t aware of that and I actually refused to pay and turned around. But I stopped and collected myself and realized I could get a year pass to all federally managed areas for $80. I decided this was worth it since I was going to be living so close to Arches and Canyonlands in Moab. So I went back to the entrance and bought the year pass. National parks aren’t my favorite places, but I stopped to look at some geysers and hot springs, and even tried to wrestle my way into the crowd at Old Faithful to see what that was all about; but I missed it by just a few minutes and decided to see it another time instead of waiting the 70 minutes or whatever it is. For the rest of this trip, I decided not to take photos, but just to notice what was around me and observe it in the moment.

I continued south and I pulled over at a number of places trying to find free camping, but the spots were either closed off or prohibited, so I kept going all the way to Jackson. At first when I entered the town I thought “this is nice, one of those small outdoorsy towns where I might feel at home” but as I parked my car and started walking around I grew to despise the place. It felt like a town sized version of a shopping mall. I may not have given it a fair shot, as my whole day was actually filled with hurt and anger revolving around a certain interaction I was having with a family member. Even on a good day though, I think I wouldn’t have liked the place, which was full of rich white tourists who seemed eager to spend their unlimited money on frivolous bullshit. I got some pizza and went to bed, and at least they didn’t enforce the 2-7AM parking lot closure where I was parked.

Day 4: I felt better in the morning, which fortunately often tends to be the case for me. I found some WiFi and planned my route for the day. After filling up on diesel again (48 MPG this time), I started south on Hwy 191. The miles south of Jackson and into NE Utah were the highlight of my trip. The landscapes were otherworldly. A heavy overcast obscured many of the higher peaks; I can’t wait to drive this again on a clearer day. I don’t know what else to say about it, except I had no idea it would be so beautiful there, so many dramatic vistas. And nobody lives there! It’s the kind of highway where you can drive without seeing anyone except maybe one car coming the opposite direction every 15 minutes.

I realized how much I enjoy driving the smaller highways compared to the interstates. No distracting blue and green signs, no billboards, no multiple lanes of traffic with trucks passing me and a bunch of other hurried people zipping by (I tend to keep my speed at 55 MPH regardless of the limit). It gets pretty meditative sometimes. It reminds me of backpacking in a way. In Utah there were a bunch of signs pointing out geological features -- rock striations that came from ancient sea level rise, fossils, places where raptors and stegosaurus used to roam. I found it ironic and humorous that there were so many signs boasting about the age of various features that were millions of years old, yet 70% of the state of Utah is affiliated with the Mormon church and most of them probably don’t believe Earth to be older than 10,000 years. Maybe whatever department put up the signs has a lot of non-religious people and they are trying to rub it in the face of all the Mormons? Probably not but the idea entertained me. I drove through some very mormony mormon seeming towns and crossed into Colorado, stopping at the visitor center in Dinosaur. I had randomly perused Dinosaur in google maps a number of years prior, and it was entertaining to be there in person.

Finally I got to my campsite in Rabbit Valley, which is where I filmed the video I linked to at the start of this post. I gave myself my first haircut in 7 years, which was a pretty emotional experience. I marveled in the surrounding beauty of the campsite, did a bit of dancing again, and went to sleep.

Day 5: I woke up to an itch on my right hip at about 4AM. Hmm, something felt bumpy there. I took a look and saw that I had an insect bite with a red swelling around it. I remembered the warning signs I had read on the way in: there had been confirmed cases of Tularemia in this area, and it is commonly transferred via tick bite. I started to freak out a bit and started researching on my non-smart-phone (I keep 2 phones, the smartphone can do WiFi but no cellular data, and the 2nd phone is a really old one which is mostly good for texting but also has very rudimentary internet search capabilities if I am desperate). I read that Tularemia is one of the most infectious known bacteria; only 10-50 organisms entering your body can grow into an infection. That got my attention, because I figured if that got into my bloodstream somehow, it would probably grow rapidly on my prosthetic heart valve. I had a streptococcus mitis infection before, which is a benign bacteria that lives in your mouth, so I figured it could be a lot worse with a nastier bacteria; maybe the IV antibiotics wouldn’t save me this time; maybe I would have to have an open heart surgery, or maybe even that wouldn’t work. All of these things racing through my mind, I started my car and headed to Moab, about 75 miles away. In my haste I left my thermarest foam pad :( I am afraid that it blew away in the wind before anyone would have noticed it or taken it. Sorry, nature! I hope someone picks it up!

You can tell I was really freaked out because I upped my speed to 65 miles per hour all the way there. I don’t push my car that hard unless I have to. The mind plays funny tricks; the bite turned out not to be serious at all, probably a spider bite, and it never really got any worse than when I found it. But that’s not what I thought when I was driving. I was thinking about who I would like to have by me on my deathbed, I was consciously enjoying my last few hours of health before declining steadily to my demise. Quite a way to enter your new hometown. The ER doc left me with a prescription for antibiotics in case I needed them, and I decided to see how the bite progressed over the day before filling the prescription. In a daze, here I was; 7:30 AM on a Monday morning, feeling I had narrowly escaped death, nothing to do except a whole new town to explore and a new life to discover. I don’t think I could recount all the things I did that day but I stayed quite busy, locating stores I would need to know about and other opportunities in the town.

Today is Friday and it’s hard to believe this is only my fifth day here. I have found a good place to park my car at night, next to a stand of shady trees that are great for hammocking, and a foot/bike path that crosses most of the town. I camped one night up in the hills near the La Sal mountains and have done some other exploring in the area. I’ve tried yoga classes at 2 places and found one that I really like, it is donation only, the teacher is this rad 71 year old lady and I am the youngest person in the class by probably 30 years and the only male. I got a mailing address. I found a bunch of free WiFi. I’m slowly feeling out the various job opportunities in the town, gradually depleting my last several hundred dollars, making sure I find a job that works well for me. Overall I think it is awesome here. We’ll see how I feel once it starts getting to be 100 degrees out, but the personality of this town seems like a great match for me, and I am very happy I came.

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