Monday, January 16, 2012

Part Two: Preview: Part One

I'll be kicking off the second half of my travels across the United States on Friday, April the 13th in Omaha, Nebraska. I left off at the Blumkin Theatre for Performing Arts and so will head out from there with the goal of the Pacific only a few million (maybe billion, I always lose count around 50,00) steps away.
There are several challenges this time around which I have never encountered before so overcoming each will be daunting to say the least. If you are just joining us, please keep in mind, before I walked 1800 miles last year, I had never done anything like this before. As a result I will probably die or be disfigured during the second, more difficult half of the journey, which should prove to be entertaining, so stay tuned for that inevitable development.
Anyway, I figured since we have some time on your hands while we wait for the snow pack to melt in the Rockies maybe a preview was in order. Today we'll politely discuss Nebraska with an informal panel composed of me, myself, and I. I don't have much to say so let's hope the rest of our guests can provide some enlightening information.
Most people I have talked to who have driven in Nebraska use the words dull, boring, or coma-inducing to describe the landscape. The ADT trail directory, which decided to use a picture of a sod hut and irrigation canal for their illustrations, hardly raises my level of enthusiasm. I did hear some of the same negativity about Iowa, however, and could not have disagreed more after seeing the wilderness (yes they have some) and meeting the people there. Walking is obviously quite a different experience than driving in more ways than one.
The American Discovery Trail consists mainly of country roads throughout the state, mostly following along the length of the Platte River. I will follow in the path of the Oregon Trail pioneers, although I do hope to avoid cholera. On the plus side I am unlikely to have an oxen die on me.
The eastern part of Nebraska should prove to be the easier portion, with several small towns giving me an opportunity to enjoy civilization from time-to-time. Two larger cities, Lincoln and Kearney will provide some culture. Lincoln hosts the University of Nebraska, where I should have a chance to query the student body as to the reason for their lack of success against the University of Wisconsin this year. The only hiking trails on Nebraska ADT carry me into and across the town, which is also the fourth state capital the I'll have visited so far.
Kearney possesses a state university as well as one of the forts where I believe I buried Rambo on my reconnaissance mission (I played my old copy of "Oregon Trail" a couple of times to get the lay of the land). I will need to replenish my stores here as the population thins out a mite once I move west. Shooting bears and not squirrels will be key and obscure references to an old video game will cease from now on, I promise.
Upon leaving Kearney the way becomes tougher as I enter a semi-arid region known as the Sand Hills, so called for the dunes there, which rise as high as 330 feet. Part prairie and part desert, finding potable water may prove to be a challenge throughout the last couple hundred miles. The Platte trickles aside my path as well as the Tri-County Canal, so hopefully they will be kind enough to contain some water. Otherwise I will have to hurry between the two lakes and one reservoir I pass by during the last couple of hundred miles before the Colorado border.
I could complain about Nebraska and I probably will later for the pure entertainment value. Not because I will really be miserable, but I need to save up some whining for the much more difficult Colorado Rockies. I am of course not talking about the pitiful baseball team.

Join us next time for dreadful doom when we preview Colorado!

Thanks to Colin McCandless, Bill Patterson, and Jill Wiggins for the first contributions of 2012!

Monday, January 9, 2012

Paris Macabre

The brief interlude from the hike takes me to Paris on a family vacation. Many thanks to mom, without whom my broke ass wasn't going anywhere.

Paris has been described as romantic, arty, fashionable, expensive, and dirty. I will remember my visit the capital of Frogland as macabre. With many centuries of history sitting in the rear view mirror, much of the city is dedicated to burying the millions of corpses who once resided there as animate objects.
Coming as I do from a family of historians, we have little use for live celebrities; we prefer ours stiff and lifeless. They move around less, thus are easy to find, and their biographies are for the most part complete. Our main search was for Jim Morrison, the lead singer of the Doors before an obsession with the afterlife combined with drug addiction to make his dream a reality at the young age of 27.
Sadly, due to my inability to read a guide book and my family’s misplaced trust, we ended up first at two graveyards which did not hold the musician’s grave.
These screw ups gave us the opportunity to see the resting places of other underworld superstars at Montmatre and Montparnasse. Jean Paul Sartre and Marcel Proust argued furiously over some of the most uninteresting philosophical minutiae every discussed by mankind and were unable to even share the same cemetery for fear the other denizens would return to life and walk out when faced with the staggering mass of their post-existential boredom .
Also on view in these extracurricular tomb lands was Alexander Dumas, famous for writing the “Man in the Irony Mask” and “The Three Snickers” and “The Count Chocola of Monte Crisco.” Fellow author Victor Hugo, penner of “Halfback of Notre Dame” and “Less Miserable” also lay in a property not occupied by the much important rock monarch, the Lizard King.
Once we did finally locate Morrison in Pere Lachaise we learned he was in death as probably in life, a rather annoying neighbor. Flowers and other honorifics lined his granite monument and Doors-related graffiti was etched over the sad tree whose fate was to grow up in such an unfortunate location. Other greats like Edith Piaf, Gertrude Stein, and Sarah Bernhardt are all over-shadowed by the crowd of groupies clinging to the hope Morrison will rise and make certain the inevitable zombie apocalypse shall be accompanied by guitar and organs.
We weren’t yet done with the dead in Paris. There was one very small detail to see to, the viewing of the tiny Napoleon. Everyone has met the prototypical short man who is so angered by his lack of height he takes out his despair on those around him in a bullying, tyrannical manner. Their psychological complex is named after this fellow who was so pissed he conquered nearly all of Europe before being defeated by the Duke of Veal Wellington at the battle of Waterloo. The French still have a soft-spot for the loveable midget and Napoleon has a grand tomb beneath a golden dome in Les Invalides, which was once an old folks’ home for soldiers before becoming a museum documenting the French martial tradition.
Alack and alas, we ran out of time to see the underground catacombs where many citizens from early Parisian history were long ago laid to rest. Much of our valuable time was wasted on questionable visits to the Eiffel Tower (who the hell goes there?). This mass of iron built in the late 19th century lights up for a few minutes every hour, with lights flickering like flash bulbs as if the building was taking pictures of us, perhaps a slight bit of vengeance aimed at the thousands of picture takers who have victimized the landmark over the years by including it without permission in their faux romantic drivel.
We also trod the Champs-Elysees, the glitzy main street of Paris which leads inexorably through a cavalcade of stores and Christmas markets to the Arc D’Triomphe, the massive, thick stone monument to just how outrageously tiny Napoleon’s wiener was.
Versailles was also included on the itinerary. Once a palatial estate built by Louis CCXIV (the nation only had like two different names for their kings so the numbers got really high after a time), Versailles is now a tourist extravaganza showing off the uniquely French ability to crowd as many people as possible into a small space. Nearly everything was encrusted in gold, causing me to wonder why there was a world hunger problem when all of this could just be melted down to pay for enough filet mignon topped with lobster and foie gras to serve one billion people for about a century.
There is no doubt Paris is a popular city to visit. The lines at Versailles which we chose to brave, as well as those at the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, and the Musee d’Orsee, which we chose to avoid like the plague, were all daunting to say the least. The crowds in the more visited areas were dense and induced a powerful claustrophobia, which caused me to yearn for the relative privacy of my bed, which I only had to share with my brother.
On the flip side, the crowds drew an entertaining group of madmen like moths to a fire. Never have I seen congregated in one place so much insanity congregated outside of an asylum. Fellows ranting about politics, poetry, or some football match from the 1980s (admittedly I had no idea what they were saying since my French vocabulary consists of twenty words) were so common as to induce ennui after a few days. More unique was the main who accompanied us on the train ride back from Versailles, barking and yelping like a dog throughout the thirty minute trip.
My favorite loon was a man who appeared to be in the later stages of alcoholism. His skin was so suffused with blood as to appear nearly purple and the smell of urine emanated powerfully from his soaked trousers. His eyes were closed and a drop of mucus sat poised on the end of his nose, reading to fall if the standing man should ever move. He did not, simply lurking in a frightening fashion just behind my brother’s back like something out of a horror film. In Paris I found you didn’t even have to visit a cemetery to see the macabre.