Monday, June 11, 2012


Day 1

The first day of my trip was a day for familiar sights and sounds. I woke up in the house where I spent my entire childhood and had breakfast with my parents on the porch.

I got a late start but after spending the previous day driving back and forth from the Bay Area, that was not very surprising.

So around 12:30 p.m., it was out of Paradise, winding down Clark Road into the valley going to Highway 70 into Oroville and to Sacramento. This is a route I have driven countless times before.

I had with me the old metal cd case that held all of the albums I listened to in high school. Because I am a cultural anachronism, they were all rock music from the sixties and seventies.

So on played the Beatles' White Album, Caravanserai by Santana and Axis: Bold as Love by Jimi Hendrix.

And as the golden dead grass and stately oaks of the Central Valley gave way to the foothills of the Sierra Nevada with their digger pines, John, Paul, George and Ringo sang songs like "Rocky Raccoon" and "Glass Onion" and "Cry Baby Cry" -- all of which were the soundtrack to I can't count how many teenage camping trips.

I can still remember the summer when my best friend discovered the White Album and exposed the rest of us to it. It expanded what we knee the Beatles to be and also expanded what we thought rock music could be. Since we never heard any of these songs on the radio, we felt that we had discovered something secret and wonderful.

So as I ascended into the Sierra Nevadas, into that rarefied realm where you round a bend, look back toward the valley and the whole world looks like it's made of green pipe cleaners, I felt that a rush of familiarity -- the promise almost that I was bound for another of these lazy, goofy outings like no time had passed.

But there are a dozen dead seasons between then and now, and instead of going to swim in some secret hole in the woods or camp at a music festival, I was just leaving; for a small apartment in a four-story brick walk-up in a rapidly gentrifying borough that's already pretty much too expensive to live in. It's an almost a terrifying shame how much we leave behind when we decide to do anything.

There was still snow in some of the peaks as I reached the 7,200-foot summit of Donner Pass. As I descended into the eastern Sierras, I thought about that fateful clan of pioneers (who supposedly resorted to cannibalism after getting stranded on the pass during the winter. I'm not providing a link because I'm writing on a damn smartphone.). It occurred to me that I was pulling a reverse Donner: fleeing the golden, arid expanses of California for the muggy, populous East. How appropriate, then, that I should wind up regurgitate myself nightly on this blog.

With Caravanserai blasting on the stereo, I descended rapidly down into the canyons among the foothills and into Nevada. The color of the stones turned yellow and sandy, and before I knew it, I was completely surrounded by the barren expanses of western Nevada. With the light beginning to fail, I pressed eastward into the nearly entirely unpopulated central region.

The famous Bonneville salt flats are in Utah, but Nevada appears to have some of its own. As I passed through these, I couldn't help but notice that various travelers had stopped and tried to make messages using the coal-black rocks that proliferate among the alkalai.

Most of these messages seemed to be crude hearts with the names or initials of lovers assembled nearby. I found it comforting that those who wanted to leave a lasting impression on the landscape, some sort of communication for the world to see, do it out of love.

Perhaps it speaks to the essence of inspiration. Or maybe we've reached a point as a culture where this is the only thing left not worth saying anonymously on an online message board. Only the stones know.

Tomorrow: A visit to a railroad town.

Sounds like a great adventure. I always love reading your writing and your thoughts on things familiar to me. Safe travels!
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