Monthly Archives: May 2011

Coming back through the heartland

Can you see the train? It's moving.

“As long as you seek for something, you will get the shadow of reality and not reality itself.”
– D. T. Suzuki

THERE’S A STEADY RUMBLE COMING from under the bus.  It sways gently to its starboard, carving through air as it weaves between the cars, balling straight ahead on I-94 as it reaches across the plains.  77 mph, roaring past farmhouses, abandoned trucks, off-ramps to dirt gravel roads to unknown places, hidden locations.  I’m on my way back to my hometown of Bismarck to see it in a new way, in a strange way, like something I’ve never known.

A harsh contrast lives along here: between the fields, light black and empty, and the short strip of vividly green grass tracing the highway.  The line is marked by tiny fence posts and nearly invisible wire stretched all the way out to the horizon that divides this land into small tracts, a patchwork punctuated by little potholes and lakes.  You are riding just low enough to the ground to see it — hovering six feet above the grey pavement — but running fast enough not to pick out the particulars.  The only trains that run through this state do so in the middle of the night, when you can’t see much of anything out there.  The road is the only way to catch things like this, sights so stark that they appear as an abstraction.

hot wheels rolling by
on the sun-dried pavement —
green grass is waving

This is all familiar territory for me.  The strange thing at the moment are the people next to me: bright blue-jeaned man reading a book with 2nd propeller chapter named “Solo”; thick sweatered and spectacled woman with overly large and frumpled Christmas pillow; the Army t-shirt giant who got on the bus late and mumbled all the way with his great white head of fuzz; the mid-length blonde white hoodie who gave him the seat next to her and scrunched up her nose,  burying it in a fragrant Cosmopolitan magazine.  And all of them, silent, next to each other.  What slice of humanity is this?  Whose America is it?  And here I am, scribbling eccentric notes of no interest to anyone but myself, and not even realizing my belt is unbuckled, fly down.  I guess I’ll defend myself by saying, I’m exposing myself to the world, one person, one place, one moment at a time.

cool heads on strangers
silenced by A/C airflow —
five roadside blossoms

We drop a couple of strangers off at a gas station in Valley City and continue to head West.  The bus driver seems to want to make time, though no one made a fuss when we left 15 minutes late and I’m dropping in and out of sleep.  Conscious or unconscious, I’m just trying to enjoy the ride.  Sometimes it seems like the hardest part of traveling is dealing with all the dead and dying time, waiting to get somewhere you want to go.  This is all different for me this time; even this trip has become a partial adventure: a strange reversal from the time-anxiety of making the plane, catching the train, getting enough rest and all that, before I would go back to the super-static life of eat, work, eat, sleep.  New York interrupts all those things, sometimes blurs them together, makes TIME a hyper-conscious state.  This trip will be quite different on that, with lots of time to kill, and little to get distracted with.  Our time will burn up as the Earth turns its northern head toward and away from the Sun.

It’s bound to be a paradox of both time and space: progressing slowly across the map each day, almost going nowhere at all, perhaps still seeing our previous night’s campsite off our hindsights.  Yet making distance all the time, all day long, and for days and days on end.  And aren’t we all always moving anyhow?  The continents shifting, the Sun circling over our heads, the Earth spinning in space and circling the Sun, within a spiraling galaxy, and in the universe infinitely expanding…wait!  Isn’t traveling just a concept, a metaphor for a metamorphosis of thought?  Even history projects us backwards and forwards in time…all the while, the moment feels like an illusion, an insignificant blip on the radar screen of forever…

riding the spring wind
has the feeling of movement —
sleeping the whole time

We’re in Jamestown already.  I’m tempted to say “we’re on the way home” but I’ve really lost that sense of myself.  Having moved all my personal possessions out of my parents’ house, what I didn’t save I gave away, and most of what’s left there now is baby pictures, man, just baby pictures…and lots books I won’t use.  At one point, I believe I made a catalog of it all, but that’s gone missing somewhere sometime ago.  And I can’t say New York is my home — a city filled with travelers and constantly in flux — and a mighty strange feeling upon leaving that this trip might change me in a way that I can’t ever really return.  I’ve only been gone a day now and I can already see that there’s far more to this world than even New York can offer, despite its claims to possess everything and everyone of importance.

New York springs with life
Dakota, a little less —
no feeling of home

It might be true in one way, but what they absolutely cannot claim to have is nothing.  I mean Nothing.  The streets the people the sounds the stuff the lights the thoughts the sights; it’s been filled, to the brim, with everything; no space left; no room for nothing.

That is what I’m seeking on this journey coming back through the heartland.  You’ll ask, can you ever find ‘nothing’?  Is it really ‘there’ or anywhere to be found?  I once read that, “The right art is purposeless, aimless!  The more obstinately you try to learn how to shoot the arrow for the sake of hitting the goal, the less you will succeed in the one and the further the other will recede.” (Suzuki)  What might it be like to aim at Nothing?  Perhaps it sounds a little confusing, like I wouldn’t even know what it meant to succeed.  Or just a little boring, like who cares?  And perhaps, that means, well, I’m screwed from the outset.  So prepare yourself for failure.  Here we go.  I’m going to walk in the wilderness, where I’m going to find nothing.

Around mile 230 (near Medina, ND), 2011.25.5, 16:30


stopped in a brown gaze

From April 27, 2011, "Elk" by Jessie Veeder Scofield

stopped in a brown gaze,
the dark light searches for souls —
Spring brings more strangers


The Nodaiku Project is a weekly series of North Dakota-themed haiku poetry, featuring a new haiku poem by Jeremy Bold based on one of Jessie Veeder Scofield’s photographs from her ranch in western North Dakota.  See more of Jessie’s photography at Meanwhile, back at the ranch: Daily Photos and find more of nodaiku poems by The Blank Rectangle here at The Blank Rectangle: Nodaiku or by following us on Twitter (@blankrectangle).  Click the “Sign me up!” button on the right to get email updates from The Blank Rectangle!

Mission: Difficult

Yesterday I decided to challenge myself with a preparatory hike that I tried to make as rigorous as what our hardest day on the WAND will be. I have probably been less diligent about training hikes and more reliant on my natural physical abilities (and what I have cultivated while living in Colorado) than my fellow WANDerers so far, so I thought it was time to see what I could do. In the end, I think I succeeded given how much I underestimated the walk, but I learned some important lessons about what happens when you push your body too hard on a hike, and how much more difficult it will be to cope with hikes like this one without access to a bed or a shower the night of. It’s definitely time to start thinking about how we’re going to be careful out there and take good care of our bodies so we can actually make it to the end.

My route was a section of road between my front door and the turn-off to Lory State Park road which is a ways up into the foothills to the West of Fort Collins. I measured the distance at about 8 miles. So I knew the trip was going to be about 16 total miles and a significant chunk (about half) was going to be in the foothills with steep graded roads that are more difficult to both ascend and descend than most of what we will be facing in ND. I also knew starting out at 12:15pm on a beautiful Summery day that I would be feeling the heat more so than most of our trail in ND, which we will be doing in the morning hours.

Here are some of the interesting statistics from the hike, as well as a list of some advantages and disadvantages that may or may not be there on any given day of the WAND:

16 miles
5.5 hours
2x 2min breaks
2x 5min breaks
2x 10min breaks
Total breaks: 34 mins.
2.5 miles were uphill
Drank 100oz. of water (of 134oz.) drinking freely and often.
Temperature ~75 degrees, some breezes, some cloud-cover shade and usually a shady rest spot.

Was only carrying about 37-40 lbs. (Actually pack weight will probably be greater)
Was totally fresh starting out, I wish I would have stretched though.
Had full water at my disposal (134oz.)

Walking in Mid-day, the hardest part was under the hottest sun (12:15-5:15)
The hills comprised ½ of the walk. Both up and down were unpleasant in different ways.
Consumed a sandwich early on in the hike, and then nothing
Hurried, took very few breaks, no lunch breaks, left boots on the whole time except 10mins.


For the most part my gear performed wonderfully. I became very sweaty during certain stretches of the walk, but my wicking garments kept the moisture off my skin, leaving some salt deposits on the clothes, but not too many. All the friction areas felt fine the whole trip, chafing was prevented. When I took breaks I felt my clothes were dry and refreshed a bit upon restarting.

My boots were great. Aside from some bruising sensations in my feet due to the mileage being done all at once, my feet never got too hot, they haven’t formed any noticeable blisters, and they were pretty well protected from some portions of gravelly/rocky road.

I was pretty tired at the end of this walk and all I could really think about was delicious food and what would be the best thing to have for dinner in huge quantities. In hindsight, I can better appreciate how bad my situation was upon finishing than I could at the time. I felt like with rest and a big meal I would readily recover from my exhaustion and that was somewhat accurate. But, I also found that I was unable to eat the way I wanted to. I had some food that was both rich and somewhat spicy (what I was craving) and it really did a number on my stomach. I nearly threw up and I started to feel as if I needed to sleep more than anything.

Instead of showering and napping right away though, I tried to stay awake for awhile and I left myself dirty, because on the WAND we will just have to stay dirty much of the time and it will significantly effect our comfort level, most notably our skin in the ‘frictional areas’.

In hindsight, I think I pushed myself too hard on this walk, and making this kind of effort during the trip would probably have repercussions that would last the entire duration of the WAND. I could easily see myself getting sick and/or being unable to perform the next day, if we do such a hard day on the WAND. Therefore I will try to employ a keener sense for when and where on the WAND we can afford to exert ourselves and when we need to take it easy. Fortunately I believe we have incorporated some of these considerations into our route plan already.

Mens Sana in Corpore Sano

If you walk around any neighborhood or patch of countryside for several hours, you’re virtually guaranteed to observe something lovely, something peculiar, something poignant, or all of the above. On one of my recent hikes in preparation for the WAND, I got all of the above. Something lovely was a waterfall, in a park in the middle of the city, no less. Something peculiar was three young deer snacking on a lawn, also in the middle of the city. I decided to see how close I could get to them, which turned out to be within fifteen feet. “You’re probably going to be killed by a car,” I informed them helpfully.

Something poignant was an elderly woman who had wandered away from an assisted living facility. I thought at first that she might just be going for a walk, but as I watched she paused by a tree and hugged it uncertainly, then continued on towards the main road. I approached her and asked if she lived there and needed help getting somewhere. The confused look in her eyes and her vague answers confirmed that she had Alzheimer’s or dementia. I tried to guide her back to the facility, but she seemed pretty keen on getting off the property. Fortunately, two employees pulled up in a van at that point, with a “There you are, Rosie,” and I continued on my way.

This incident reminded me of how fortunate I am to be of sound mind. During my training over the past several weeks, I have thought often about my good fortune in terms of physical health. It’s not going to be a cakewalk, but I am capable of walking 200 miles carrying a heavy pack. Many people I know wouldn’t last one day on our journey, and age is not the only reason. One of my friends my age has a serious chronic disease, and a two-week hike is something she will never be able to do. When my hamstrings and feet hurt like hell, I try to be happy that I can push them that hard.

But mental health—I am exceedingly lucky to have that, too. None of the many things that could take that away from me has happened to me yet. No infection has left me with brain damage. My mother didn’t do drugs when I was in the womb. No potted plants have fallen off a window ledge onto my head. My mind works the way it is supposed to, and if I uncertainly hug any trees on the WAND, it will be because Google Maps has failed us, not because my mind has deteriorated to the point where I don’t even know where I live. Thank you, Rosie, for a reminder of that.

Morning cold mud sucks…

From May 12, 2011, "Old lady in the rain" by Jessie Veeder Scofield

Morning cold mud sucks
dogs and rocks soaked with rain —
old gal strolls again


The Nodaiku Project is a weekly series of North Dakota-themed haiku poetry, featuring a new haiku poem by Jeremy Bold based on one of Jessie Veeder Scofield’s photographs from her ranch in western North Dakota.  See more of Jessie’s photography at Meanwhile, back at the ranch: Daily Photos and find more of nodaiku poems by The Blank Rectangle here at The Blank Rectangle: Nodaiku or by following us on Twitter (@blankrectangle).  Click the “Sign me up!” button on the right to get email updates from The Blank Rectangle!

these hills wander far

From May 8, 2011, "Greening Up" by Jessie Veeder Scofield

these hills wander far
still beaming their distant star —
each green blade glinting


The Nodaiku Project is a weekly series of North Dakota-themed haiku poetry, featuring a new haiku poem by Jeremy Bold based on one of Jessie Veeder Scofield’s photographs from her ranch in western North Dakota.  See more of Jessie’s photography at Meanwhile, back at the ranch: Daily Photos and find more of nodaiku poems by The Blank Rectangle here at The Blank Rectangle: Nodaiku or by following us on Twitter (@blankrectangle).  Click the “Sign me up!” button on the right to get email updates from The Blank Rectangle!

When blisters appear

When blisters appear

You suddenly seem wider

Go ahead – widen!

tree buds under ice

From April 30, 2011, "Winter Storm" by Jessie Veeder Scofield

tree buds under ice
resist winter’s final gasp–
larks take snowy naps


The Nodaiku Project is a weekly series featuring one of Jeremy Bold’s haiku compositions based on Jessie Veeder Scofield’s photographs from her ranch way out in western North Dakota (Meanwhile, back at the ranch: Daily Photos).  Find more of The Blank Rectangle’s nodaiku poems by following us on Twitter (@blankrectangle) or here at The Blank Rectangle: Nodaiku and be sure to click the “Sign me up!” button in the sidebar to get notified each time there’s a new nodaiku or other post from The Blank Rectangle!

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