Tuesday, September 26, 2006

I am a monk now. Well, for 10 days at least.

Photos, new and old:

A few doubts crossed my mind, but then I jumped in headfirst. I lived on the donations of others, did not eat any meals after midday, and meditated for over 100 hours. On September 13 I started a 10-day meditation course at the Illinois Vipassana Meditation Center in Pecatonica, near Rockford, Illinois. I think the course was the most influential part of my road trip so far.

There were about 30 of us meditating, some new students and some old, and we didn’t talk, touch, or so much as look at each other the entire time. We arose at four a.m. every morning to meditate before breakfast, and continued to meditate for at least eight more hours. If you’ve ever climbed a mountain, then you know how I feel right now after finishing. I’m exhausted, proud, happy, confident, and somehow both irritable and very calm. I gained some wisdom and some strength, and yet I feel like never meditating again.

Of course I already meditated this morning, the day after leaving the course. Like my attitude toward mountaineering, I just need a little less intensity after finishing, because the course was so challenging. Sometime in the future I will probably sit another course, but that won’t be any time soon. As for now, I really do want to incorporate meditation into my everyday life.

I won’t spend much time here preaching or anything like that. I’ll just say that it was a great experience for me and if you want to know more, just let me know. Everybody should definitely give it a try. You can go to http://www.dhamma.org/ to check it out.

I’m writing from Mukwonago, Wisconsin, where we’ll be for a couple days, just relaxing at a campground in farm country. On our way to Milwaukee I’m getting excited to eat some cheese and visit that old beer brewin’ town. Afterwards we’ll drive along Lake Michigan to Chicago, and hopefully snag to a ticket the see the Seahawks beat the Bears on Sunday.

I last wrote from Dodge City I believe, and I don’t have too many pictures of our trip since then. We kinda blew through Kansas, Missouri, and Illinois because we had to be at the meditation course so soon. After Dodge City we stayed in Abilene, Kansas where we bought a new car battery and stopped worrying about getting stranded. We also caught the opening day of the Kansas State Fair, which was pretty awesome. It wasn’t too different from the fairs back home, so after a deep-fried Snickers bar and some examination of the plethora of Confederate Flag paraphernalia for sale, we continued on our journey.

Next was St. Louis, where we took some pictures at their giant arch and drank some coffee in the university district. Hoping for some Seattle-like comfort, I ended up finding the city a little lame. It seemed pretty segregated as well, and some parts were really ghetto. We slept in a nice little spot north of town, which was relaxing.

Of course, we found that place after first leaving the world’s creepiest RV park in the outskirts of St. Louis. We left the first place pretty late, after setting up camp and soon taking it right back down. That meant we had to wind through some eerie forn fields, trying to follow signs in a very dark night. Fierce lightning and thunder made it more of an adventure, and upon arriving we had to sleep on a popped air mattress - an unfortunate by-product of leaving the world’s creepiest RV park in such a hurry.

The next night was spent at a nice KOA campground around LaSalle, Illinois. We washed some clothes and watched the Simpsons in the lounge for a nice change. Then we had our last night of freedom before taking a nervous gulp and heading to the meditation center.

Look out for many more new pictures to come, as I need to play a little catch up. And if you're enjoying the blog, or at least just made it to the bottom of this page (!) let me know...

The Trip by the Numbers:
4,512 – miles driven so far
11 - states covered
2 - nights spent sleeping in Wal-Mart parking lots
107 - hours spent meditating
15 – average dollars spent per day (with gas, camping, beer and all!)
2.24 – (dollars per gallon) the cheapest gas price we’ve seen, which was in Kansas
1 - Speeding ticket (so far...)

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Get the heck outta Dodge

All of the photos will be hosted by sportsshooter.com now, so just click this link for a few of this week's pics: http://www.sportsshooter.com/dryder/usaweek2 The thumbnails might be all black but just click em and you'll see some sweet pics, guaranteed.

I like Dodge City, Kansas, but there's a hell of a lot of flies. That's why I want to get the heck out, but it is a great place to relax and poke around. We had to eat lunch in the tent today, which was like sitting in a sauna, because there were so many flies swarming our picnic table. Tonight will be our second night staying here at the Watersports Campground, which is located right on a big, calm pond in Dodge City.

Kanna and I enjoyed Antelope Island, Utah, before heading to some unnamed spot a couple hours east of Salt Lake City, near Provo. We saw a sign for camping, continued past the campground, and made our own little space near a creek where cattle roam. It was pretty calm, and free, yet still smelled a bit like cattle. The next night was spent in a very nice campground in the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Colorado. It was luxurious but a little boring for our tastes. Naturally, we graduated to the parking lot of Wal Mart for the next night's accomodation.

I know it sounds weird, but it was free, and surprisingly more adventurous. The plan was to set up camp just like normal, and we got the 'ok' from asst. manager Joe inside Canyon City's Wal Mart (still in Colorado). However, as we watched a large brawl take place outside the store's main entrance, we decided to find another location. The wild goose chase that ensued only led us back to Wal Mart, two hours later, with our own fear restraining us to the inside of my Saturn. We drove all over trying to find the state park, and just ended up sleeping in the car back where we had began.

Things took a turn for the better, as we encountered enchanting Fowler, Colorado. By enchanting, of course, I mean small and weird, and kind of uncomfortable. But it was a nice two nights of 'catching our breath' from too much driving and not enough relaxing. Fowler is just a pit stop, if you will, for travelers of highway 50. Our neighbor in the permanent trailer next to us at the RV park enchanted us with tails of the town's mysterious cat murderers. And vicios dogs chased me as I took a jog by the cemetery.

As we follow highway 50, which brought us to Dodge City, Kansas, I am truly glad we chose to avoid major interstate highways. Blue highways are the way to go (the ones that look blue on the map--not the big freeways). The scenery is great, the pace is more manageable, and the towns are very unique.

Tomorrow we'll continue on our way, not before sampling the town's Mexican food, of course. There seems to be a large Latino population here, something I'm seeing a lot of on this trip, and I'm dying to get some food that rivals the taquerias that I came to love while living in Baja.

Like I said last week, that wallet ain't getting any fatter, but we're doing alright. And that beard is kind of big; you should see it. Maybe I'll add a pic next week. And the car is, well, workin' real hard. The brakes started smoking in the Black Canyon, which forced us to pull over and let them cool (and let our nerves cool, which was probably more important--it's a damn steep road!). The battery was completely shot yesterday, and the trunk popped open while we were driving. Sadly, we lost my beloved American flag folding chair. It fell straight out onto the highway, never to be seen again. Se la vi.