Rucksacking

[On the old site, Matthew had sent me a picture of his mile marker near the Matterhorn, but I don’t have that picture anymore.] This picture is of a mountain across the pass from the Matterhorn and is copyright by Matthew Frondorf, who climbed up the Matterhorn, retracing Snyder’s and Kerouac’s steps from The Dharma Bums (Kerouac). For more information, click here.

…see the whole thing is a world full of rucksack wanderers, Dharma Bums refusing to subscribe to the general demand that they consume production and therefore have to work for the privilege of consuming, all that crap they didn’t really want anyway such as refrigerators, TV sets, cars, …all of them imprisoned in a system of work, produce, consume, work, produce, consume, I see a vision of a great rucksack revolution thousands or even millions of young Americans wandering around with rucksacks, going up to mountains to pray, making children laugh and old men glad, making young girls happy and old girls happier, all of ‘em Zen Lunatics who go about writing poems that happen to appear in their heads for no reason and also by being kind and also by strange unexpected acts keep giving visions of eternal freedom to everybody and to all living creatures. -Jack Kerouac (The Dharma Bums) 1958

Rucksacking, or backpacking, wasn’t just a physical workout for beats such as Jack Kerouac; it was a spiritual workout that often flew the mind to great appreciation for the natural surroundings. To explain this better, I’ve chosen some quotes from The Dharma Bums (Kerouac, 1958, Viking Press).

The wind was whipping now. Yet that whole afternoon, even more than the other, was filled with old premonitions or memories, as though I’d been there before, scrambling on these rocks, for other purposes more ancient, more serious, more simple. (Ray Smith, climbing the Matterhorn with Japhy and Morley.)

Down on the lake rosy reflections of celestial vapor appeared, and I said “God, I love you” and looked up to the sky and really meant it. “I have fallen in love with you, God. Take care of us all, one way or the other.” (Ray Smith, on Desolation Peak.)

On the Road and Up the Mountains

In simple form, Kerouac and buddies traveled a lot, often with rucksacks on backs as they crossed the USA or dipped into Mexico. They’d hike through cities and towns, or hitch rides with strangers (the country seemed friendlier back then) or on trains with open boxcars. And many times, they just drove their cars. Hiking to the mountains was another rucksack event, and to prepare for these events, the following items seemed necessary:

-Clothes, jackets, boots, tarps, sleeping bags, cooking pots and utensils–from places like Goodwill or the Salvation Army.
-Cans of beans or “lighter” food like dried veggies that could be mixed with water and bacon fat.
-Red wine unless it was up to the mountains. As Kerouac noted, at higher elevations, you lose your taste for alcohol.
-Coffee
-Matches
-Hershey’s almond bar!
-Sneakers (until your feet blister, and then you change to hiking boots)

Recently I heard from Gary Snyder about planning a trip up the Matterhorn (which I plan to do next summer). He said: “If you look up the Matterhorn in the Sierra Club climbing guide you’ll get a good description of how to do it. It’s not particularly dangerous but the last few hundred feet are 3rd class. (I’m talking about the easiest route, which is the one I use.) It’s a long hard hike from Twin Lakes though, camping part way up Horse Creek Canyon. Go with a friend.”

Kerouac Saloon

Here’s my idea of a diner, inspired by many of Kerouac’s travels and Snyder’s works, including trips to the Desolation Peak lookout, climbs up the Matterhorn, Big Sur experiences, and many other tales of on the road. It would be a cabin type lodge, with wooden beams on the ceiling and burlap walls. On the walls would be paintings and portraits of Kerouac, Ginsberg, Burroughs, Snyder (etc.), as well as artsy posters and book cover prints and even poems. It would be a dim place, with a cozy hearth, candles on oak tables, and lots of bookshelves lining the walls–for patrons to read and skim over during their stay there. This “saloon” would be in Big Sur, or Cambria, somewhere overlooking the Pacific. But not a schmancy-fancy place, because it would appeal to bums and poets and everyone driving up Pacific Coast Highway, wanting some grub or drink or reading or company. There would be poetry readings (planned and open mic), and the atmosphere would be laid back–with memorabilia everywhere, but not overkill. You’d get a feel of the 1950s as well as an art environment as well as a rugged lumberjack sense of the outdoors. The place would serve poorboys of red wine, and other assorted beverages (tea, coffee, beer, etc.). You could order pork pies (like Kerouac’s mom made), stews and soups. There’d be chunks of cheese, cortons, crullers, pork meatball stew, beef jerky, beans and weanies, apple pie ala mode, Joyce Johnson’s eel stew (or is that a myth?), Carolyn Cassady pizza (is there such a thing?), big diner dinners–like on the road–and great bread to munch on. And hotcakes with sausage and bacon, etc. The ideas are endless. This is making me hungry. Oh, and there’d be some Slim Gaillard, Dexter Gordon, Charles Mingus, Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker, etc. piping through. Updated diner thoughts: see March news, and the Jack Kerouac diner menu.

Excerpt from the introduction to The Americans (Kerouac, from Good Blonde & Others):

“The raw cut, the drag, the butte, the star, the draw, the sunflower in the grass–orangebutted west lands of Arcadia, forlorn sands of the isolate earth, dewy exposures to infinity in black space, home of the rattlesnake and gopher–the level of the world, low and flat: the charging restless mute unvoiced road keening in a seizure of tarpaulin power into the route, fabulous plots of landowners in green unexpecteds, ditches by the side of the road, as I look. From here to Elko along the level of this pin parallel to telephone poles I can see a bug playing in the hot sun–swush, hitch yourself a ride behind the fastest freight train, beat the smoke, find the thighs, spend in the shiney, throw the shroud, kiss the morning star in the morning glass–madroad driving men ahead. Pencil traceries of our faintest wish in the travel of the horizon merged, nosey cloud obfusks in a drabble of speechless distance, the black sheep clouds cling a parallel above the steams of C.B.Q.–serried Little Missouri rocks haunt the badlands, harsh dry brown fields roll in the moonlight with a shiny cow’s ass, telephone poles toothpick time, “dotting immensity” the crazed voyager of the lone automobile presses forth his eager insignificance in noseplates & licenses into the vast promise of life. Drain your basins in old Ohio and the Indian and Illini plains, bring your Big Muddy rivers thru Kansas and the mudlands, Yellowstone in the frozen North, punch lake holes in Florida and L.A., raise your cities in the white plain, cast your mountains up, bedawze the west, bedight the west with brave hedgerow cliffs rising to Promethean heights and fame–plant your prisons in the basin of Utah moon–nudge Canadian groping lands that end in Arctic bays, purl your Mexican ribneck, America–we’re going home, going home.

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