THE END IS NEAR
“…home is the sailor, home from the sea and the hunter home from the hill…”
Robert Louis Stevenson
All journeys must end. In a day this one will too. It has ranged over 9,000 miles, 22 states, and two countries. It has gone well and fast. I have been in the desert twice, the mountains a lot and on the Right and Left Coast and a substantial part of the northern part of Middle America. Nothing significant has broken either inside or outside my faithful road warrior and companion, La Coachasita. One roof leak, now so many miles and months ago, it is just a dim memory considering that we have suffered high winds and rain for a majority of the trip before and since. We have endured three tornado alerts, one actual evacuation and the coldest, wettest spring since 1962 the weather service says. Yet as I drove to my last stop it still felt it was a good one.
The heat has finally come and we have stopped for one last time. It is time to kick the tires, make sure everything is tied down, throw out the trash, and gird for the trip through the “combat zone” of eastern Los Angeles, San Bernardino, and Riverside, California. It was once a paradise for urban planners but now an overpopulated watered desert, with a foreclosure rate as high as anywhere in the country and an unemployment rate to match. It is to me a hot and annoying drive. When last driven in the Zen like state of the last day on the road, a woman doing 50 miles per hour in an outside lane (there are six), was driving with her knees while she banged out a text message on her cell phone. As I drove past her by moving into the inner lanes I was astonished to notice at how few times she looked up at the road. It is the road home so it must be taken and if another like her is found this trip, well, it is just my welcome back to Southern California. One Twain-like commentator once said that the country once tilted and all the nuts rolled to the Left. While driving Interstate 15, it is easy to agree with the impression.
The last of the trip has been through a bit more of Idaho and then on to northern Nevada. Idaho State University is in Pocatello where we had two days of reasonable weather, their first of their spring/summer and one of violent storms as the next front rolled through. It is a nice city in this time of year built with the University nearly in the center.
My route followed a bit more of the Lincoln Highway, U.S. 50 in this part of the country. I wended my way to Carson City, the little known and less visited capital of Nevada. The Governor’s Mansion and the Legislature are on or near the main street. It is a small but bustling place with the usual combination of pretty parks, architecture and the faux glitz of the casinos which drive the economy in the state. At a stop overnight in Fernley just east of Reno, I found an RV Park with neighbors who lived there all year who had, as many others, left California for here for retirement some years ago to avoid state income tax, smog and the high cost of living. The statistics on foreclosures in Nevada are frightening. 50 per cent of the homeowners live in houses that now would sell for less than what they paid for them. This was just a sad fact to my travel trailer dwelling neighbors who had a cement slab, a patch of lawn of four by six, two flower box planters, three landscape lights and the monthly rent to worry about. They saw it as a good, if greatly downsized life.
The next day moved on as I kept driving in a way that perhaps suggest my disinterest in comgestion and tourism. I found it tedious, too busy and too hot. l I reached Mono Lake on U.S. 395 in the Sierra Mountains where, due to the altitude, coolness prevailed. I stopped at a campground near Yosemite that I had visited before. It was quiet and the weather pleasant in contrast to the heat I have found here near Lone Pine, California.
On my way down the Owens Valley I visited the World War II Japanese Internment Camp called Manzanar where many of the West Coast Japanese-Americans were either guarded or “concentrated” depending on who described it during the War after their initial evacuation to assembly areas. It is a haunting place, a one mile square that was surrounded by barbed wire. The remnants of barracks foundations and a reconstructed guard tower remind us of lost civil liberties in the name of panic. The visitor’s center is in what were then the school, auditorium and gymnasium. Inside is a reconstructed barracks area that was typically assigned to a family of four and preserved other artifacts, such as a “home plate” made of wood scrapes used in the evening pickup games between the barracks. Those who lived here tell eloquent stories about their time here. There is so much to tell, so many points of view. For it was a place of paradox and suffering, where 1,028 left this and other western camps to enlist in the Army that guarded them and their parents and fought bravely in units such as the 442nd Battalion and the 100th Regiment in Italy. Among the GIs in Italy, it was known as the “Purple Heart Battalion.” One received the Medal of Honor. It had one of the highest casualty rates of any unit of a comparable size. As President Truman said tothem at a ceremony after the war,” You fought not only the enemy, but you fought prejudice, and you won.”
The sons, and in some cases the daughters, of these men and women of Manzanar did that for a country that treated their parents as terrorist suspects, rounded up and sent here in March of 1942 and given hay to make matresses because of their ethnicity without regard to their loyalties, guarantees of due process, and a host of laws because it was easier than finding who might indeed be spies among them. As it happens, when the war was over, no Japanese American was found guilty, arrested or suspected of being a spy.
Life here was hard, cold in winter, dusty and hot in summer. The wind is always here. When the war ended they were simply released and trained or bussed “home” to find that their businesses and homes had been confiscated for no other reason than they were Japanese. They started over as laborers, gardeners, and housekeepers in homes smaller at times than the ones they once owned. The United States apologized to the survivors when it got around to it in the 1988 and awarded a sum for “reparations” to the then still surviving 60,000 of 125,000 original “detainees.” Manzanar and Mikato at American Falls Idaho are reminders. Sad ones to be sure that fear of mere ethnicity must be tempered with a healthy belief in a citizen’s Constitutional rights and the rule of law.
Lone Pine is uniquely situated geographically. It is the only town half way between the lowest point in North America at Death Valley 100 miles to the east (285 feet below sea level at Badwater) and Mt. Whitney, the highest point in the 48 states, to the west. It has the distinction of being the home to many of the competitors every year for the Death Valley Ultra Marathon, which begins on the floor of Death Valley at Badwater and winds upward, across two mountain ranges then up Mt Whitney. It lasts for 135 Miles. It is run by what some call “extreme athletes,” or “adventure athletes” who routinely race in triathlons and other “extreme” events. Some have less kind names for them. These competitors apparently have nothing else to do on the second weekend in July than try to “run” in up to 135 degree heat in the Valley up a cumulative vertical height of 4,700 feet. This year they will come from seventeen countries—50 will be doing it for at least the second time—and consist of a field of 17 women and 71 men. The youngest is 19 and the oldest is 67. They have 60 hours to try to finish. The record holder is from Brazil who finished in 22 hours and 51 minutes. The average age is 46 and the average finishing time is 40-48 hours. There is no prize money per se although there are sponsors. Anyone finishing under 48 hours is given what is described as the coveted “Badwater Belt buckle.” This has been officially been going on now for ten years, although there were more loosely organized races before that. What it takes is a desire to know what one’s body can stand and a type of insanity with which I am not familiar.
After Lone Pine, U.S. 395 goes nearly straight south and meets I-15 near Barstow California. When I reach the junction, I will still be two hundred miles from home, yet the trip will be over. It has been interesting as I had expected, beautiful in so many ways, and a three month odyssey of family visits, quiet peaceful times, new places and people.
Thank you for coming with me. I enjoyed your company. I hope you have liked some of the places we have been. There will be more about some of them later.
As it comes near enough to fill my windshield, I know I will be glad to have come full circle, back to the warm and welcoming place I call home.