Interlude: The Long Mists Open Ground


Interlude: The Long Mists

Open Ground

Fall Colours

Seasons change across America.

Portland to Montana, USA
5th October, 2001

Energy. There is a current of energy here. Energy usually channelled to commerce, self-improvement, entertainment, now turing to something else. After the tragedy of September 11th, there is a new will, a collective, sub-concious will binding the American people to a new purpose... people question their jobs, ambition takes on a lower key... as the nation is readying itself to act, gathering itself for a great compulsive effort... is it war? Is this the primal urge to war? I don't know. I'm just a mote of dust, a speck blown along the highways of America.

What's going to happen?

Travelling Alone

The main problem for a sole traveller in North America is getting around. It is a vast area and poorly served by public transport. The main service is the Greyhound Line, a coach company. This serves population centres, and is therefore an excellent way to visit a succession of drab mid-American towns. You can view smelly bus depots and encounter the best humanity has to offer in terms microwaved fecal-burgers and individuals with personal hygiene issues. However, as I had become tired of yeah-yeah-yeah backpacker transport, I thought to take the Greyhound for a while and be alone with my fascinating thoughts.

Ten hours down the road I'd had enough of my fascinating thoughts. I'd rather die than take another Greyhound. How I missed my little English friends and their cheerful ways. I decided to find an alternative. Anyway, I had reached Portland.

Portland, Oregon

Portland is an attractive city in a temperate northwest setting. It's a little bohemian, which is to say the young folks address each other as 'dude', describe almost anything as 'awesome' ( ahhSAHHM ) and lounge around lazily comparing tattoos. As I only speak English and not fashionable youth-slabber, I didn't attempt to hook up with any of them, but instead contacted one of my most fatal and mysterious net.stalkers: the elusive kizu. This was a moment of some trepidation for me as I reflected that I knew nothing about this individual whatsoever, other than anonymous messages on my bulletin board. What if he/she turned out to be an axe-murderer? Or a seven-foot transvestite who preferred to be called Shirley? Or was smarter than me?

Kizu suggested we meet for dinner. That must be fine, I reasssured myself, I can eat. I can do that. Keeping a careful eye on my exits, I waited in the youth hostel for a mysterious fog/unexplained package/sinister figure of intrigue to show up. And Kizu came... an undergraduate girl, young, no axe. I let out a sigh. Dinner would be fine. She was intelligent, witty... "oh, by the way, my mother, brother, step-father, step-sister and step-brother are coming too! They're dying to meet you!" My grin went rigid with fear. Family encounters, well, terrify me worse than dogs, but what could I do? I decided to drink heavily and make the best of it.

But it turned out great. Kizu's family were polite, interested in me and my adventures, and the night went easily and full of laughter.

The Definition of Camping

The problem remained. How to travel around the U.S.? I found an answer: TrekAmerica. They offered a three week camping tour of the rocky mountains, visiting almost every national park I had ever wanted to see. As the trip was due to leave in a couple of days, I received a huge discount. So I booked it, and went off to Seattle to join the group.

Without reading any of the details.

In particular, the word "camping".

Camping, isn't it shocking, turns out to involve tents and sleeping on the ground. In October! Half way up a Rocky Mountain! Someone joking here, I thought to myself at the group introduction, when our guide wanted to check if we had sub-zero mountain sleeping bags. I thought about my lightweight pro-tropical snuggly-6. I murmured, that, um, my sleeping bag may possibly not be meant for all conditions.

The bag was rectified. Steve, the guide, then produced a map and described our three-week route, and enormous semi-circle taking in most of western America. "You're going where?!!" Someone squeaked, "that's halfway across America! I just wanted a lift to San Francisco!" It was me. "Well of course," everyone said, looking at me as if to say didn't you look at the route map when you booked?"

um, well maybe not...

Mount Rainer NP

Equipped with an extra sleeping bag, our intrepid group of ten set off in our little van. First stop was Mount Rainier, a dormant volcano near Seattle, which turned out to be... not there. First thought was, it's the end of season and all that, Mount Rainer probably just knocked off early and has gone down for a spot of volleyball in Tijuana. Or maybe it was just hidden behind the vast rain clouds that seemed to threaten our whole trip. After some damp wandering around trails looking for any sign of the mountain, we left our first national park behind. All that rain on the first day troubled me. After all, it was the end of September. What if this miserable weather dogged us the whole way? Steve, however, was unpeturbed. What I didn't understand was, climate.

In Ireland, the UK, western europe even, there isn't much climate. Or rather, there's only one so you don't notice it. As you go south, it gets warmer, as you go north it gets colder and wetter. Easy. Rain in the west of Ireland means rain eventually everywhere else. Straightforward.

Not America. If there's rain in Seattle, in the western Cascades where Mt. Rainier is? No problem. Drive east. You leave the Pacific Northwest behind, the temperate rainforests, crest the mountains, and three hours later you're in desert. No rain, almost never. Very little life at all, just dry, yellow sagebrush. It's the rainshadow effect, caused by 3000m mountains. So we left the green and the rain of western Washington State behind and stayed a night on the cool desert of the east. And of course, to complete the effect, we crossed the giant Columbia River, millions of tonnes of water flowing through this parched zone. All that water, but no good to the desert at all, unless assisted by irrigation: because there's no rain.

Glacier NP

Glacier National Park is a northern section of the rockies carved into fantastic colls and knife-edged ridges by the action of glaciers. We went for a long hike, fifteen miles along ridges and valleys, beside stern mountain teeth gaping at the sky. We climbed over the Continental Divide, where I ceremoniously poured out some water, half to flow on one side to the Pacific and half to the Atlantic. The air was cool, but the sun blazed down as if a reward for daring to come here a week before the park closed.

That night my team cooked in camp, the first team meal. I chose to make a beef stew for simple filling nourishment, and we had Baileys and hot chocolate for desert. As we sat under the stars, enjoying the fruits of our labours, I thought, camping in October, what a good idea.


Fall has come to Montana, in the brilliant yellows of dying aspen leaves, in the reds of shrubs and berry bushes, all contrasted against the dark green of pines and the slumbering greys of the rocky mountains. The land is vast and lit with glowing, filled with energy. The energy is in the air, the cold clean air. The people are warm, friendly, polite, but there's something extra. A hidden reserve of strength, charging up in America, waiting to spring. Energy in fall colours, gathering, glowing against the dark. When will the winter storm begin?








USA Route


Hat & Spoon



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The Facts

Where I stayed
Portland: HI Portland. Hostel in wood frame house, nice area of town.

How I got around:
Greyhound Bus from Vancouver, tiring with many stops.
Trek America for a three week camping tour. Brilliant fun. We visited and camped in sixteen different national parks. I couldn't imagine a better way to see the US.