Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Travel Log: Headed South

We are traveling fast enough, and I write slow enough, that just trying to write a summary of each state we've gone through has been difficult to keep up on.

In three days, I've gone from the north eastern Oregon semi-desert, warm and dry when I left, to the north Idaho mountains, eastern Montana hills, to North Dakota/Minnesota, with day temperatures of 20 degrees with a 20 mile per hour wind, to the Arkansas low mountains (beautiful), rain, to now (at the time of writing, not at the time of posting, but who cares?) in the Memphis, Tennessee area, about, maybe, 50 degrees, damp, and the greenest I've seen for months. Being further south east than anyone in my immediate family already, I'm for the first time finding myself in a place where white Caucasians are not the majority. Not that I mind..

By Sunday I was further east than I've ever been, for the first time in my life (believe it or not..) more than one timezone off from the place where I was born.

Montana is mountainous on the west, and hilly on the east side. Somewhat cold, a little snow (not more than a foot anywhere). People are spread out.. it's nice. Best place, in my opinion, but of course best is always subjective, is between Billings and Bozeman.

North Dakota is a little flatter, and colder, and windy. Although we traveled most of it in the dark, and were away from most of the mining areas, there was still a little of that "boom town" feel to it. Or maybe I just imagined it. Anyway, it was interesting.

In North Dakota, it was about 15-20 degrees outside, with a 15-30 mile per hour wind (this continued through most of Minnesota). There was a snow storm up ahead, so the road was closed, and we stopped for the night. During the night, with the engine running for a heater, I woke up about 3 times thinking we were driving. But no.. it was just the wind rocking the truck back and forth...

The next morning headed into Minnesota we saw over half a dozen vehicles in the ditch, including a truck which had been rolled completely upside down underneath it's trailer. The trailer was still upright, and the car on the trail was still in place. Later on in Minnesota we even saw a snowmobile stuck in the ditch (the distinctive mark of Minnesota is that snowmobile tracks follow the highway, and it seems you're as likely to see one at a gas station as a car.) From the looks of it, there was between 1 and 2 feet of snow in most of Minnesota. I guess the locals call it Manysnowta for a reason. Of course, this is the drifting variety, so in the ditches, as evidenced by the cars (mostly semi trucks and SUV's actually) off the road, it was closer to 3 feet deep.

Minnesota is an interesting state. It seems that speeding is seen as largely unnecessary. We once passed a convoy of 6 pickups, 5 dualies and one lighter truck, with gas tanks (of the 50 gallon variety) and 5th wheel hitches in the back (I've not seen many flatbeds - the defining mark of a work pickup in the eastern North West. Maybe they just aren't on the roads so much). I'd love to come back some time and get better acquainted with the culture. Where I come from, within 6 hours from home you can go from desert to rain forest, from hills to mountains, to plateau. Areas of dense population, and areas of absolute desolation and uninhabitability. (Ok, the cows do fine, but houses are few and far between). Out here, the only thing that you get from driving 6 hours is 6 hours further from home. How much does this change a person's philosophy on life? How much of an effect does geography have on culture?

Some of the new things I have seen so far include a horse drawn buggy waiting at a crossing at the highway, snowmobiles Everywhere, ice fishing houses (close to a dozen on what to me looked like a large pond), frozen rivers (not until mid Iowa did we see flowing water).. in Dakota we saw an oil well at which they were burning off natural gas. I don't think I've ever seen such large piles of snow everywhere, nor so many snow plows (and tractors outfitted as snow plows..).. water towers in this flat region of the world

Iowa is uninspiring - just a warmer southern Minnesota. I wonder if an uninspiring landscape makes people nicer or less nice? At any rate, the truck stop personnel seemed fairly friendly (on a relative measure). One thing I found interesting was the "cowboy culture" items for sale. Coming from a town with a 100 year rodeo, proud of being "The Real West", I have difficulty seeing anything east of Wyoming as being west at all. (Sorry, Texas, you're back east. :D). Anyway, it's interesting.

Missouri is the state between Arkansas and Iowa. That pretty much sums it up. (Well... we'll say it does for now..)

By the time you get to Arkansas, the plains have transitioned to hilly forests, and later the afore mentioned beautiful 1500 foot altitude high mountain passes. Didn't have much interactions with locals (being in a truck does cut down on that a tad..), but those I did have ranged from friendly to.. interesting. I guess the norwestern culture is enough different from that of the western south east that interactions may not have perfect interfacing. But it's on a very subtle level. I haven't figured it out yet. (Maybe I'm just too shy and it throws people off..). Maybe I'm over estimating the situation, and it has more to do with me than with the cultural difference.

Arkansas is pretty rocky, but since then (currently in Alabama, on course for Birmingham) it seems mud is the rule of the land. Muddy rivers, muddy river banks (duh..), muddy road shoulders, muddy fields (enough standing water..). It must be beautiful here in the summer. I guess they do pay for it, though. Mississippi river is big. And muddy. Huh. Maybe we should call it the "Big Muddy". I saw a tug boat pushing 8 barges. On the Columbia they usually push 2 or maybe 4. No other major river activity. Maybe that's further south, or seasonal.

Southerners seem to be somewhat proud of their hick image, at least, as evidenced by the items sold at truck stops, and from what I've picked up elsewhere before. Maybe it's only certain demographics, I don't know. Which I find find interesting. I guess it's common for one culture to take as a badge of honor that title which another culture placed on them with distain. Perhaps if this was more commonplace (vs. taking insult), there would be less fighting between different groups? Or maybe not.. Something interesting to think about, at least. Basically, a refusal to take insult.


So, having now finally found good internet from which to post this, I'm in Birmingham, Alabama. You may get to here more about this