Tuesday, October 30, 2012

I Am Vegetable

October 9

I packed the tent away, perhaps for the last time.  The REI Halfdome 2 has served me well.  Very little of my original gear has made the cross country journey intact.  The tent is an exception, with only a minuscule crack in one of the poles to show for many months of wear and tear. 
My body has hung together just as well.  At this point last year I was suffering from back spasms and shin splints.  As of today my feet feel like I could do another thousand miles.  My brain, on the other hand, has told me that is a terrible idea.
We comprised and aimed for the University of California-Berkeley, only ten miles or so away on the ADT, one block away as the crow flies. The advantage of the ADT is the views and there could have been plenty between Inspiration Point and the Cal campus.  The early morning mist had other ideas, drawing a curtain over the Bay Area, leaving me to imagine what lay below.  Probably a duel to the death between King Kong and Godzilla, I conjectured.
I spent some of the morning getting lost and falling on the ground, but these foibles are part of my regular routine now, like brushing my teeth and taking a shower*.  I shan't bore you with those details.  Suffice it to say at some juncture I was spat out onto Grizzly Peak Road, where I was stunned to realize I knew where I was. 
As I proceeded toward Cal-Berkeley I ran into a friendly bicyclist named Lovejoy.  Curious as to why I looked like Santa Claus fallen on hard times, he asked for my story.  He was intrigued, especially since he had recently met a Wounded Warrior in need of help while walking in San Francisco.  Lovejoy found the man naked on the sidewalk, curled up in the fetal position.  "R," as we will call him, was at first unwilling or unable to speak.  With some gentle prodding he admitted to having done "terrible things" in Iraq, actions for which he felt he would never be forgiven. Ever since their run-in Lovejoy had been working to get R the assistance he needs.  I promised to inform the WWP about R's situation if Lovejoy would send me the man's information.  We parted shortly thereafter, but not before making dinner plans for that evening.
I descended to the Berkeley campus where I ran smack into a bear.  The beast was a bronze statue of the school's mascot, thankfully not prone to moving, much less devouring hikers.  I was hungry myself and headed to the International House^ for lunch.  I wolfed down a lamb and hummus pita sandwich, as if anyone gives a flying fornication. 
There was plenty of day left, so I decided to take advantage by checking into the hostel where I had reservations and doing absolutely nothing.  The Piedmont House is a relic of Berkeley's days as a bastion of left-leaning thought.  The 60s at Cal were a cloud of marijuana smoke occasionally interrupted by a hit of acid, a line of Ginsberg poetry, or a Free Speech Movement.
The Free Speech Movement was a student uprising in the middle of the hippie decade which began in response to the University administration's ban on political demonstrations.  When an activist was arrested for defying the ban, huge sit-ins and protests resulted.  Mario Savio summed up the feelings of those involved:
   "There's a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious—makes you so sick at heart—that  you can't take part. You can't even passively take part. And you've got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you've got to make it stop. And you've got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you're free, the machine will be prevented from working at all."
 The evil Dean Wormer eventually backed down.  Cal students continued to rage against the machine throughout the 60s.  They were at the forefront of the Civil Rights movement and later led student opposition to war in Vietnam.
The man who appeared to run Piedmont House could have easily been transported from that era yesterday.  Yow was at times a brilliant philosopher and at others a flaky burnout case.  Paranoid of bed bugs, he had my sleeping bag frozen.  I wondered what sense this made since he left me my pack.  My sleeping bag is normally stored inside, if one is infected surely the other is as well.
I hung out at the hostel, over the course of the afternoon meeting a few college students in residence as well as a middle aged man who had clearly overindulged in hallucinogens himself.  I was retrieved by Lovejoy around six and we rode in his car to Cafe Gratitude.
The restaurant is more like a collective, growing organically out of the strongest of roots.  Lovejoy explained to me that its origins lay in a game, the Abounding River, which the owners invented.  Abounding River allows participants to examine their lives while receiving positive affirmation, free from judgments, from other players.  Cafe Gratitude started simply as a place to host the game.

I found that story quite unusual, but you may find it even harder to believe my reaction to the Vegan fare they served.  I am a committed carnivore.  Until my twenties I found most vegetables repulsive and I have no love for raw vegetables even as an adult.  When Lovejoy told me what Cafe Gratitude's menu was like I cringed inwardly.  Be polite, I thought, just enjoy the atmosphere, socialize, and don't insult your host by spitting the food on the floor.
When the appetizer, I Am Grounded#, arrived I was stunned.  The dish was essentially patatas bravas, but the sauce was not made from cheese, but cashews instead.  I could not have told the difference blind-folded, except that the flavor was superior to any examples I had sampled in Spain.
I still doubted my entree would be much more than edible.  When I Am Hearty landed in front of me, I admitted otherwise.  Of all the experiences I've had on this trip, enjoying a Vegan meal would have seemed the least likely of them all not too long ago.  At least I'm getting pretty used to being wrong.

10 miles/4059 total miles    

*He actually does not shower very often - Editor
^Not affiliated with the shithole in Austin. 
#All the dish titles relate to the positive reinforcement aspect of the Abounding River game: I Am Bold, I Am Dazzling, I Am Thriving, for example. 


Anonymous said...

WHEW -- Glad you are back -- I thought the trip had ended with no fan-fare!!

I can hardly believe you are nearly done. I have read every entry this summer and enjoyed them all.

Thanks for your dedication! I have given what I can to help the WWP.

Will you keep your Blog going after this? I will miss reading it.

Thanks again!!

Alastair McCandless said...

The Blog will survive even after the walk is done. I won't have an entry for every day, but please continue to check back...and who knows, there may be a book in the works.