XC USA 2015

Day 5: Into The Expanse

5 June 2015


Woken up by people talking near our tent, we realized we'd parked and set up camp basically in the middle of a suburban park footpath, with women running and walking their dogs. We hustled to pack everything up quickly, figuring the very suburban-looking folks had called the cops on us. 

We parked in a nearby narrow parking lot, and cooked breakfast with our standup propane cookstove. A cop pulled up and I went to talk to him. He said someone had called in some homeless folks camping by the water tower. I said we were just trying out equipment, getting ready for a trip. He seemed ok with that and went on.

On our way out, we stopped at another thrift shop and got some Caribou Coffee. I want to say a few things here: there aren't Caribou Coffees anywhere else but the Northern Midwest (and a few in the South) - somebody'd better get on that, cuz this coffee is bomb! Ten times better than any Dunkins, and definitely able to compete in the minds of loyal Starbucks fans. If I could plug them for a little royalty here, I totally would! This whole blog concept thing has to have some sell-out if it's gonna be sustainable, and at least I actually like Caribou. 


I also want to touch on the photos of food thing that many people my age do. A lot of it is driven by Instagram and all that - those mechanisms are the same that operate in the social presentation mentality in dressing "well," i.e., like everyone else, in the current look or whatever, playing that game, right? Then there's the competition to make your life look better than the next little square on someone's screen (I guess, I haven't really tried to do that, but it has to be a thing), which makes us glam things up, and it also makes us buy more. That's how Facebook and Instagram are successful businesses: besides the advertisements, they actually incubate a culture of competitive consumption, where people stuck in a relatively screwed-up economy compete to buy the next coolest food item (poké bowls, boba tea, etc.) and then share it to make everyone feel as though they have to do it too to keep up, like an all-pervasive, ever-present "keeping up with the Joneses." People in the Instagram age bracket (I'm talking heavy users) can't really afford to be eating out all the time, but that's what's expected, and it makes us feel damn good when we do - we were raised on TV where people did that, where commercials told us and showed us how great it was, on and on. No, we don't save our money, generally, but we're not spending a whole lot either, because we don't have a lot; it's just that the market has bent to our means. Food is made to look commercialized (even the "field to table" movement has been commercialized), and so making images of it operates to reinforce that we are succeeding at fulfilling society's expectation. In other words, food, something that might cost $4 (coffee), or $8 (a bowl of phô), or $14 (burger), is our car, our house, or our new living room set (whatever that is). We exhibit to the world, and to one another that we've made it, today, and the next day, and the next day, because we can't make those long term successes, such as a car or house. It's also a part of the globalization of culture, where Western cultures are absorbing traditionally Eastern Asian cultural practices of designing their own cuteness and small packaged items: of identity, food, etc., for the presentation to some audience, in an attempt to succeed in some kind of identity struggle despite the complete homogenization and cooptation of anything we might describe as identity. 


I have held back some images of food on this blog so far - they're terrible images. But, I took them, and there's a reason I did. For me, it's kind of those things above, but I don't share them like many people do. I take them because I am aware of these mechanisms, and I am aware that I will probably never be able to afford that thing again. I definitely got really trapped in the mentality of "I want to try everything," and if it was new to me, I had to have it, at least once, probably twice. Those vegan pancakes and tofuevos rancheros? Never had that, gotta try it - even for $17. I can't speak for everyone, but I can't afford that, and, really, given the state of the economy, I don't think most people can. I actually take more photos of food I've made than anything else, and I think it's something that works very similarly to the images I make of landscapes or trails, or any of my travel photos, which, I think you all can agree, are pretty different from the typical travel blog (like this post). I'm trying to show the realities of what's out there: the grandeur, the small, beautiful moments, and the tough, gritty, or just natural (i.e., poor quality phone images) sides of what's out there, outside of the grind so many of us are caught in. I want to provide a window to something else, to possibility. And, maybe it sounds stupid, the images I take of a skillet full of veggies and spices, if I share it, besides pride and enjoyment of my own labor (which is typically alienated from us), is actually aimed at dismantling the notions we have of understanding food. People my age and economic strata grew up on instant noodles, cans of soup, spaghetti, mac n cheese, and microwave meals. So we jump when we get the chance to go out because it seems like such better food (it is and isn't), but the cost is so much higher. And we're so estranged from the realities of food. I was lucky enough for my first few years to have been naked in a garden, eating carrots and cucumbers, but not many people can say that, so, for many people, it seems like a new frontier to cook something that looks complex, but is really just a bunch of cut of veg sautéed in spices. Obviously, this isn't everyone - I have lots of friends who cook - but it isn't the norm, so to see it repeatedly reinforces the reality of it. 

So anyway, we left Minneapolis and the land opened right up, flattened out, and the sky took over. Movement seems both faster and slower in a landscape like that. Like sailing in a ship, you can see where you're going, but you don't feel yourself moving very fast. 

Watertown Mall! 

Watertown Mall! 

Aurora felt the slowness

Aurora felt the slowness

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Industrial-scale agriculture is so interesting

Industrial-scale agriculture is so interesting


Along the way, we pulled over for me to shoot these trailers, and apparently T ate her first marzipan Ritter Sport. Fun facts. 


We stopped in a town for T to get some meds refilled, hanging out in the long grass and just resting. After an hour and a half or two hours, the pharmacy told us to try elsewhere, they weren't gonna get it in that day. So we went across town or to another town to an urgent care and hung out there. Nick and I climbed a train (lots of photos on Teysia's instagram @teysialynn). 

On our way out of that town, or maybe the next, we caught sight of some enormous metal sculptures out in a field and had to stop.


I tried to capture them the best I could, but it obviously wasn't enough. Nick on the other hand, after much pained contemplation, decided to jump the fence to shoot the cars in the field. Perhaps because of the herd of cattle with which he has so little experience, or perhaps to stay out of view of an imaginary land owner (who I don't think would have cared much anyway), he ran straight down the bank of the field road and into the marsh, swamping his shoes and eventually just Tom Sawyering it barefoot.

There heeee gooooes, there he goes agaaaaain 

There heeee gooooes, there he goes agaaaaain 


He got the shot, but stunk up the car for the next few days with cow field marsh feet and soggy birks. His shot is here.


The sun started to drop as we rocketed into the expanse, aiming just over the state line at what we thought would be a good campsite. 


Once we got near, however, we realized that this part of South Dakota was mostly ranchland. We ended up trying to follow backroads (chipstone), thinking they might lead to some wilderness where we could set up, chasing hilltops that we never could reach because of fence lines. We finally gave up and started heading towards Pierre, the capital, seated in the middle of the state. Something that I now tell anyone going to South Dakota: when the sun goes down, the antelope come out and it is terrifying to drive. We kept it around 40mph, but we were all super tired. T was driving, and I was copilot, keeping her awake and alert, and keeping myself awake by spotting the antelope. If you're from the Northeast, you know how the frogs get in the late summer after a rain. They jump under your tires, basically. Well the antelope were the same, but they were aiming for our windshield. We almost hit at least eight and the care we had to take turned the drive into a trek that took us several hours. Once we got to Pierre, we drove around town a little, following the map to a green space, which turned out to be a strip of free camping spots. Now, after midnight, we set up the tent in the light of the headlights and slept until it was too hot to sleep anymore. 

Jacob Sell Hicks