Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Great Outdoors- Part I

I have just arrived home from an amazing road trip to Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons. Joe and I started in Berkeley last Friday afternoon. Near Sacramento, we stopped at WinCo, a wholesale grocery, for fresh and dried fruits and vegetables, jerky, tortillas, and other food to supplement the oatmeal, peanut butter, cheese, lentils, and rice we brought and the bread Joe baked. He made two loaves, extra soft and not crusty, the way I recently confessed to liking it best.

We packed the supplies into the already full Corolla and popped in a book on tape for the trafficky ride through California to Winnemucca, Nevada. We listened to Indignation by Philip Roth. When he won the Man Booker Prize earlier this year, I decided to read some of his books. I started with The Humbling and then Good Bye Columbus, so this was my third Roth of the summer. We reached Winnemucca after dark and went on a brief run. For me, it was strange to be running after nightfall, but apparently men don't have to think twice about it. The next morning I saw mountains that I hadn't known were there when I ran past them the night before.

We drove (well, Joe drove, since I can't drive manual) through Nevada on I-80. Unfortunately, signs warned of a four hour delay due to a horrible accident that had 80E shut down. We turned the car off and opened the windows and I read aloud out of a stack of slightly out of date Wired and New Yorker Magazines that someone in Berkeley had left at the curb to get rid of. I saw the stack on a run and grabbed as many as I could run home with. The April 18, 2011 issue of the New Yorker had pieces by Jonathan Franzen and Gary Shteyngart, whose novels I had enjoyed earlier this summer. Franzen's piece is about a reluctant venture into the wilderness and tied together so many themes-- solitude, depression, fiction, boredom, modern life, friendship-- and was a stirring pre-backpacking read, for I share his mixed emotions about going into the wilderness. He waxes long on Robinson Crusoe while huddled in a tent in a storm on the remote island of Masafuera, and I wonder if we who escape so thoroughly and investedly into the worlds of our books and the fictions in our heads somehow feel both a greater obligation and a greater reluctance to subject ourselves to real world adventure.

Traffic finally inched forward enough for us to exit the interstate. We decided to find a place to park and go for a run in the valley to wait out the traffic. When we pulled the car over to the side of the country road, there was a dreadful crunching sound. The roadside was soft gravel, and we were stuck. Every attempt to pull the car forward only resulted in a teeth-grinding sound as the front wheel dug itself into a deeper hole in the gravel. Suddenly I was glad we had taken the precaution of filling several milk cartons full of water that morning.

We stood by the car and soon enough a pick up truck pulled over and the driver stepped out. He considered our predicament, and I imagined him chuckling at the California license plate and our youthful foolishness. Joe found a rope in the emergency kit in the trunk and they hitched the car to the truck and pulled it back onto the road. We picked a better parking spot and began running along the road in the heat. It was the middle of the day and the sunlight was much more direct than in the bay area. My legs felt stiff and unenergetic. Lately-- a long lately --I had been plagued by a sluggishness in my running, an unspringy physical and mental reluctance. I wanted Joe to talk to distract me from it and I wanted to know if he noticed. After 35 minutes we turned around and headed back to the car for 70 in all. I drank water out of a milk jug. I hadn't had such a thorough clean sweat since Atlanta. The traffic was moving, if slowly, and we ate lunch on the road. Orange bell peppers from Berkeley Bowl, eaten sweet and whole like apples, and also actual apples, and soft soft peanut butter sandwiches that I spread while Joe drove.

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