The Colorado River Crossing at Hite is a “camping area” that looks suspiciously like a boat ramp. It is 50+miles from Hanksville and another 75+miles to Blanding. There is a small store open from 8-5 at the boat launch area but it is a looooong way to a real grocery store and we saw only the one ranger lady tending the store. We had some supplies and bought only ice the next morning. A few trailers suggest a “community” but there is not a lot of activity. Shortly after we arrived we were joined by two guys from the Rhode Island School of Design on fully loaded bicycles slogging along for a cross country tour. Our first cyclists of the trip! Brothers in adventure! They pitched their tent in the dust with us and we were glad to finally meet up with someone doing a cross country tour. These fellow cyclists were “going our way” and we enjoyed re-living the highs and lows of the route. They had left San Fran on June 16th while we had left June 30th. They were trying to finish the transcontinental ride by September 1. It had been a hot, hot and long day and they had only their little canteens with a filter pump. We were scarfing junk food and cold Gatorade while they prepared their whole wheat pasta on backpacking stoves. Self supported on this route would be spartan. We had coolers of cold drinks, flip flops to walk on the rocks down to the River for a swim and as I said earlier, we brought too much stuff BUT having a fully stocked sag wagon is certainly a delight.
I slept completely comfortably all night on the ground without an air mattress. This might be a comment on the previous days effort and surely it was the dehydration that kept me from having to piss at 3AM, which was an unexpected pleasure. The morning was pristine. No activity anywhere. I would have expected a number of early morning fisherman, boaters getting started for a day on the river, etc. but it was silent, the rocks like sentinels, waiting for the sun. The tent zipper was loud as I crawled out. Despite an urgency sending me to the enviro-porta potty some 1/4 mile away, I broke out the backbacker stove, screwed on the butane tank, and lit a fire under more than a quart of water, enough for a LOT of coffee. Then I ambled off for morning duty. Returning, it was time to employ the coffee press. The boys, like frogs in hot water, would not stir until the sun got up enough to heat the tent to unpleasantness. I wasn’t sure about Ralph. Drinking coffee and watching the sunrise on the Colorado as the grey cliffs turn fiery was at least as restful as sleeping. Many mornings we were in some haste to pack up and move on but today we were headed to Natural Bridges for lunch and as far to Moab as we could get. We did not have a schedule. I ate my cereal and bananas and considered whether it was possible to have come this far without crash or flat. I was grateful for our great good fortune. I have been on club rides of 40 miles with six people and had 2 flats and needed to call my wife to rescue me, so we had been lucky.
We packed quickly and were ready to go by 8. No sign of the Rhode Island School of Design boys, still asleep. Today's ride would be uphill to Natural Bridges Nat’l Monument. It was a beautiful morning and the grade was not bad at all. The boys decided to do some canyon exploring so it was just Ralph and me on the bikes. The scenery is pretty but not as dramatic as yesterday, gradually the vistas open up and we spot the only scenic reference point before lunch, Jacob’s chair. There’s not a lot to say about Jacob’s chair. It does look like an Egyptian throne but I find the slot canyons the most interesting. All of the water is heading to the Colorado so as we gain altitude, the canyons get deeper. This area of the country could use a few trees. No shade on this route. We met the boys at the entrance to Natural Bridges. It’s about 2-3 miles into the Park so we loaded the bikes and portaged in to do the loop. They had a nice picnic table on the North side of the air conditioned gift shop so we ate peanut butter/jelly sandwiches and a bag of Doritos. I wonder what that red stuff is on these chips? You can’t get it off your hands without a scrub brush. This was the least interesting National Park in my opinion. The previous sights overwhelm the vistas from the road. If we had hiked it probably would have been different.
On to Moab! It now was pretty hot so we had the car take us to the entrance. Half way to Blanding the descent to the Chisolm Wash is fantastic but the whole way down you can see the semi-trailers and RV’s climbing the cliff on the opposite side and it takes away from the joy of the descent knowing you have to go right back up. The interesting rock formations start to disappear and finally going into Blanding there is just one left, a solitary hoodoo and goodbye to all that. We join the main road to Moab and feel like we have returned to civilization. There are actually stores on the road and traffic. We were more used to occasional a/c ensconced travelers that blew by like dirt dervishes. This route to Monticello is not fun. We’re tired. It’s a four lane highway. We pack it up in Monticello. Time for the auto-transporter. We’ve done 90+ miles. We have not reserved a room in Moab so we want to go ahead and get there to find something. I slept on the ground the last two nights. I’m thinking of something with a bed and maybe a jacuzzi and bar..... Comfort Inn has a suggestive name and I’m driving, so I stop. Home for 2 nights. (It does not take us long to find the pool).
What does it mean to be an American? I envisioned the ride across America as "linking" the disparate parts of America into one thing--a ride, a journey into the future that includes us all. What is the goal? I mentioned a multi-ethnic, eco-sustainable, substantially just "community". But is it an idea, that includes everyone who commits to a unifying idea of America or does it only include the people that currently inhabit the space called the USA? We have these myths of exceptionalism(the indispensable nation), these myths of inclusiveness(give us your tired, your poor..), these myths of freedom, myths of democratic citizenship and membership in the idea of America includes hopeful people all over the world that would like to share in the advantages of living in America. But this idealistic imagining of a mythical America faces the hard task of inclusiveness in a very diverse population. Diversity is typically not thought of as a strength, it could rather be considered a complication of effective citizenship. If different groups are politically struggling for different things, there cannot help but be major conflicts. We seem to be there. Touting our acceptance of each and every minority and losing sight of the whole. Tolerance is a virtue BUT to fail to promote the essential principles of American citizenship leads to chaos.
The problem of course is primary loyalty. We can love all kinds of people and wish them well but there are some groups that are closer to us than others. Our family may have a higher rank order than the national principles of inclusiveness for people different than ourselves. So our ranking of our loyalties puts us at loggerheads. We must be loyal to our God, church, family, friends, co-workers, neighbors, local community, state, region, nation, and our moral idea of universal humanity. If we are excessively tribal we claim that others just don't count like "we" do. But again who is we? That is America's problem. Our history has made us E pluribus unum but our politics today focuses on our differences and the adjustment we "should" therefore make to accept other's values. If everyone has a different conception of what America is and where it is going, can we actually become one? Again the idea is, are we melting pot or stew?
The melting pot idea has been challenged by the civil rights movement. We included other Europeans when they gave up their attachment to their home countries: but when it came to Afro-Americans--we balked. Native Indians did not generally want to be like us so we quarantined them and killed them. We(white folks) changed our essential modus operandi for making outsiders --insiders when it came to people of color. We did not want to blend. We wanted them to have their rights but we wanted a certain distance. We wanted our "space". We did not want to accept the responsibility for discrimination: our parents had facilitated what our grandparents had caused and though we did not support the inequality, we were willing to live with it. We did not feel we had influence on the cultural pathology of broken black families during the civil rights 60's. If Daniel Moynihan was worried in the 1950s about the breakdown of the black family it was commonly considered to be "their" problem, not "ours". And now of course drugs and family breakdown affect both the black and white poor today.
So we say E pluribus unum but we mean separate but equal. As a Southerner I will be taken to task for saying that separate but equal can work. It is a real strategy and it can work. The "old" separate but equal was a fig leaf for discrimination but the new will have to be a partnership. Lincoln used the phrase a house divided among itself can not stand and it is a valid metaphor. What he also said was that a bundle of sticks can be broken individually but bundled together cannot be broken. So separate but equal has to work because that is how it is going to be. Groups are going to prefer their own. A global elite can create a real diversity with enough money because they are not essentially dependent upon one another. They are dependent on the money. As long as everyone has the mega-bucks there is a recognized equality. They are, in short, all together - rich. But it is a small minority that can share in this Edenic world. In a low or no growth world--riches are not going to accommodate us to one another. We will have to make and have small belonging groups(communities) and a larger national partnership that sustains everyone's rights. We should celebrate the strengths of individual groups, not undermine them to seek an illusory universalism. We cannot be all things to all people. We can admire and tolerate differences but we cannot be forced to accept them.
I seem to have waded into race baiting waters which I have no real interest in propounding. I have spent a lifetime loving the differences in other cultures and sharing mine. Differences have their own strengths (and weaknesses) so we should be tolerant of all our many failures of inclusiveness but the goal cannot be homogenization in the short(5-10 year) and medium(20-100 year) time frame. Perhaps in the long run. We can get along right now and if we refuse to then we will be forming different political entities to achieve our goals. We won't be talking about "America" anymore.
The immigration problem confounds two issues--how to structure the political interaction of the disparate groups that are currently here and how and how many others to include? If we look at successful multicultural Switzerland it is in the context of different cantons with their own democratic traditions. Multi-ethnic societies have much harder time building political consensus because of the underlying trust issues than more homogeneous societies like Norway or Japan. Multi-ethnic America would require some real sacrificial leadership and I am afraid we have created a leadership elite that prefers its own group rather than the people it is supposed to be representing.
So you will find me painfully torn between the promise of a structured international understanding in something akin to the UN, where differences are celebrated and a true humanitarian universalism is the goal and those completely and unalterably opposed to any such pie in the sky nonsense. Many do not want to lose their group identity. Nationalism is NOT poised to evolve into a more structured internationalism. Nations are breaking up into their ethnic components. The talk is globalism but the trend is localism.