First Third of Pilgrimage for Hope — 118 of 350 miles

First Third of Pilgrimage for Hope — 118 of 350 miles

We have finished the first third of our journey: Miles 1-118. After spending the first ten miles backpacking with students from East High in the San Rafael Swell, we began the journey in earnest—100 miles through Desolation and Grays Canyons.

To get to the back country, we enlisted the help of friends—new and old. We drove our car to Green River, Utah and hitchiked back to Price. Our new friend Billy, on his way to a funeral in Washington, gave us a ride to Price. From there, our old friends, Kevin and Claire Uno drove us into the backcountry and walked with us for eight miles. We waved goodbye to them under a gray sky heavy with clouds and began walking down the canyon.

When we began this journey, I planned on covering ten miles a day because it was easier to do the math than any other number of miles. Six miles into our first day, when our last road for the next eighty miles disappeared, I realized my mistake.

We covered only eight miles that day, and for the next several days. The picture that we took at the end of every mile felt like a triumph. We pushed through thick stands of tamarisk, followed game trails through greasewood and sage, balanced on boulders, trusted the strength of sand as we traversed rockslides, and swam around cliffs.

The geography of the canyon demanded perspective. I spent my days repeating, «one step at a time.» In her book, Wanderlust: A History of Walking, Rebecca Solnit describes a pilgrimage as a physical manifestation of the soul’s desire. «Pilgrimage unites belief with action, thinking with doing . . . . Pilgrimages make it possible to move physically, through the exertions of one’s body, step by step, toward those intangible spiritual goals that are otherwise so hard to grasp.» She continues that, while we do not always know how to achieve spiritual goals, like forgiveness or redemption, we do know how to put one foot in front of the other «however arduous the task.»

Reading these words before we set out on our journey, I began calling our walk a «pilgrimage for hope.» In the face of bleak headlines about climate change, I found hope difficult to grasp, and I thought that this journey might lead me to a wellspring of it. A third of the way through the journey, I still do not know if I will find hope. But its absence is less painful. Now, different words in Solnit’s description catch my eye. To «unite belief with action, thinking with doing.» Perhaps pilgrimages are merely training grounds. The real journey begins when we return home primed to act rather than wring our hands. Too, pilgrimages offer perspective on the meaning of «action.» Every step, no matter how small (and I took some very small steps during the past 118 miles) is an action.

Every journey begins with a step. Steps strung together become a walk. Walkers together become a march. Marches can make a difference.

Here is a video with the «postcards» (pictures taken at the end of every mile).

Our First Ten Miles on 10-10-10—We’re In This Together 10/12/2010
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We kicked off our 350 mile walk accompanied by eleven students from East High. Just like the 350 movement, we were an international group, with eight different nationalities (listed in the post below) represented in our group of fourteen. My favorite quote from the weekend came from Thappasarn (or T for short). When I thanked him for accompanying me to get water for the group, he responded, «My mom told me that I should always help people whenever you can. You never know when they will help you back.» The selflessness with which he said his life philosophy resonated with the phrase that Ryan and I keep repeating to ourselves as we organized our journey.

«350. We’re in this together.»

Hero’s Journey in the San Rafael Swell from Ryan Pleune on Vimeo.

No Title 10/07/2010
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Thank You Story — A Relationship with Wilderness from Ryan Pleune on Vimeo.
A Post From Ryan
We can sit around and “talk story” all day long, focusing on the values of diversity, environmental justice, equity, communication and create as many simulations as we want but you all know that nothing beats walking the walk. The highlight of my last two months was watching teenagers navigate through a grocery store in dialogue about who wants meat vs. veggies; who can eat pork or not; and who likes sweet vs. healthy. This is where I remembered what a mentor of mine told me while holding me back as I ran to help, coach and dictate the way a group of students at the Wilderness Treatment Center should cross a river. My compulsive thinking urged me to explain to them how to work together, what was safe, and how to communicate – the counselor Pat said “Trust the experience”. It’s been ten years since then and I’m finally starting to get it – The last words in the song on this Thank You Story Video say “It’s alright Mama, Let your children be loud; It’s alright Mama, Let them run into trouble” – Martin Sexton must have had the same mentor.

Walking a half mile up the hill from Smith’ Grocery Store back to East High School the students traded off carrying the backpacks full of food, laughing and running up the geologic fault that divides the East side of Salt Lake City from the West side. The group is diverse. representing 8 different nationalities; Buddhists, Christians and Muslims; Rich and Poor; and it could be characterized by a host of other differences that on a societal level could cause violent conflict. The fault of our societal system is that we rarely learn to walk that steep hill of diversity with grace. Every time I see the divide between East side kids and West side kids or read the newspaper headlines about warring sects, I will watch through my mind’s eye a group of students crossing a literal and metaphorical fault peacefully overcoming conflict .

I believe this paradox of peace and conflict can be navigated without violence and it begins with me embracing the paradoxical thoughts, feelings, and cultures within my own body. I am learning this via relationships while backpacking through the wilderness and journaling about what author and psychologist Gerald May (2006) calls the «wild within.» I am working to make this exploration as public as I feel comfortable with so that others may provide insight about how to embody paradox and potentially learn from the pitfalls and grace that I encounter along the way.

The last two weeks have produced a roller coaster of logistical roadblocks that have re-routed us into a wilderness of relationships far more rich than what we planned. Our first partner, the Wasatch Mountain Club, has been extremely patient with the changes in our logistics and will accommodate us for a winter retreat/celebration on December 4th; The facebook causes site recruited 40 donors and 1,600 dollars to pay for food, vehicle, and gas; At the last minute, a program called Gear to Grow donated a set of warm clothing and rain gear for 15 students and the Face of Fitness program through the Salt Lake School district adopted us and will purchase all camping gear under the condition that we expose students to science related careers through the outdoor industry. The video associated with this update is the beginning of our story together and serves as a thank you to everyone who is supporting our “hero’s journey”.

This thanks goes out to Jamie who has been the point person on the UT 350 walk and had to adapt and change our route and start date because of the wilderness rites of passage trip and the hurdles we have encountered.

Hope is an action, not an emotion. 07/27/2010
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A rabbi spoke these words in the sweltering heat, standing on a patch of lawn near the Capitol. His voice, hoarse with age, shook with emotion as he spoke to the small crowd—proxies for the desired audience—Congress. Hope is hard to come by these days. We are living in a time of existential crisis. Even though the consequences of climate change threaten the lives and safety of millions of people around the world, our leaders refuse to act to curb our national patterns of indulgence. In this political environment of denial, I struggle to find hope, so I was glad to hear of it described as an action. But, if hope is an action, what kind of action does it entail?

The science is clear, if we want to preserve life as we have known it on this earth, we must reduce the concentration of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere to 350 parts per million. To accomplish this reduction, we must voluntarily walk away from the economic, social, and political patterns that dominate our lives in the United States. The only way to tackle such a monumental journey is one step at a time.

To symbolize this epic journey, and to urge our political leaders to “get to work” on addressing climate change, we celebrate 10/10/10 by beginning a 350 mile walk through Utah. Beginning in the oil and gas fields of Vernal, Utah, we will walk away from this extractive landscape through some of Utah’s beautiful and unprotected wilderness quality landscapes. Every mile of this journey will be both personal and political. At the end of each mile, we will take a picture that will become a postcard urging our political leaders to act immediately to address climate change.

FDR purportedly once said to some social activists who had convinced him of the merit of their reform ideas, “Fine, you’ve convinced me, now go bring the pressure.” We hope that our walk and our letter writing campaign will join the actions of thousands of others around the world to “bring the pressure” on our politicians. Like small tributaries that trickle down mountains, congregate in valleys, and eventually meet the ocean with the pressure and force of the Mississippi, we hope that our individual action will join with the myriad of individual actions around the world in a constant trickle of public pressure flowing into the halls of power so steadily that eventually the seams burst, exposing politicians and agency bureaucrats to the enormity of the challenge facing us all. Perhaps then, we will begin to see some action that will give us reason to hope.

Walking Away From Corporations’ High Stakes Gambling Habits 05/14/2010
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Our world is different than it used to be. As Bill McKibbin recently wrote, we live on a new planet “with melting poles and dying forests and a heaving corrosive sea, raked by winds, strafed by storms, scorched by heat.”[1] Yet, instead of facing the reality that our natural resources are finite, we continue to sacrifice them to self destructive patterns daily. Perhaps even worse, we are giving those natural resources away to large corporate interests at a fraction of what they are worth.

Think about the oil gathering in the Gulf like a vast army of destruction marching toward the shorelines of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Florida. To me, the BP disaster is the most recent manifestation of today’s unbalanced relationship between corporate and social interests, in which corporations enter high stakes games of chance, leaving society to pay the debt when the wager fails. This untenable relationship has sacrificed lives, dreams, and futures of individuals and destroyed the fabric of American idealism from Main Street to Wall Street, from coal mines to oil rigs.

I grew up believing that American values represented self sufficiency. Our ideals were founded on working hard, on pulling our own weight within a community, and on respecting others. As I watch the British Petroleum oil leak ominously move toward the shores of the Gulf Coast threatening potentially unprecedented environmental damage, I wonder how our dedication to the rugged individual has been twisted to allow a gigantic multi-national (not even American!) company destroy the livelihood of thousands of individually employed entrepreneurs who do typify the real values of America. From fishermen to shrimpers to oystermen to hotel and restaurant owners, the American ideal of self sufficiency was wagered and lost in a gamble to gain a proportionately small amount of oil.

How did we get here? And how do we leave? I don’t know, and neither does anyone else. But every journey begins with a step. The first step I want to take is self-protective. I want to demand that our government start addressing climate change.

Life as we know it depends on an atmosphere composed of 350 parts per million (ppm) of carbon dioxide. Since the industrial revolution, we have steadily increased the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to 387 ppm and rising. Dire predictions overshadow the changes in the natural world that we are already experiencing, like water shortages, unusual weather patterns, changed growing seasons, melting polar caps, and species loss.

On October 10, 2010, people around the world will each take one symbolic step on the journey to reestablish equilibrium in our atmosphere by participating in the world’s first global “work party”—collective action inspired by 350., but implemented locally. These work parties will show our world leaders, “we’re ready to get to work, what about you?”

“Getting to work,” what does that mean? It means taking action to protect, preserve, and strengthen the things in life that we value. It means finding the strength within ourselves as individuals to help support other individuals within our community. It means respecting ourselves and the world around us enough to care about more than our immediate comfort.

So, on 10-10-10, along with thousands of other individuals around the world, I will begin a symbolic journey dedicated to protecting, preserving, and strengthening the things in life that I value: friendship, community, and the opportunity to disappear into natural world. Beginning in the gas fields near Vernal Utah, I will walk 350 miles across a landscape that epitomizes disagreements about land use and wilderness designation.

This journey is about friendship. I will walk with my best friend, my husband, along rocky trails with sharp rocks and unexpected difficulties, just as I promised (more figuratively) on our wedding day. And, we hope to be joined by more friends, new and old, who want to participate in the journey toward a more sustainable future. The invitation is open. If you like to feel the earth beneath you and the sky above you without anything in between, you’re invited to join our journey.

This journey is about community. We hope that our journey will help strengthen the global community of individuals dedicated to respecting each other and the natural world and to protecting our collective future through meaningful action on the long journey toward a liveable future.

This journey is about wild places. As we walk through these wild places, we will be humbled by a landscape that barely registers our presence, we will find hope and strength. Along the way, we hope that our story will remind people that these wild places are reservoirs of hope that are worth fighting for. As one Congressman noted the Wilderness Act was meant to preserve “places where one can truly ‘lift up mine eyes unto the hills from whence cometh my help.’”[2]

[1] Bill McKibbin, Eaarth 1 (2010).
[2] Cleveland: Cong. R. A4105, July 30, 1964.

Slow Down, Simplify, Self Propel 05/10/2010
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To Fully Understand the Value of a Wilderness, You Must Have Experienced Its Loss 11/28/2009
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“To fully understand the value of a wilderness, gentlemen, you must have been there, and spent some time there, not much necessarily, but enough to gain some readjustment from the accustomed environment you have left. . . . [O]ne must experience . . . the country himself.” These words, from a wilderness activist from Minnesota, were read into the Congressional Record on August 20, 1964, as Congress finalized the passage of the Wilderness Act after eight years of debate. Cong. R. 19991 (Aug. 20, 1964). Growing up with wild landscapes in my backyard, I never understood the value of wilderness until I experienced its absence. I am a fourth generation Utahn, and until two years ago, I have never lived further than a short bike ride away from public land. Now, living in Washington D.C., hemmed by roads and harried by a 24-hour work ethic, I have learned the value of wilderness by experiencing its loss.

On one level, the loss was temporary. I can move back to Utah. Once there, I could still load a few essential belongings into my car, choose the closest highway out of town, and drive until the strip malls and new housing developments speculatively carved into the dry hills surrounding Salt Lake disappear. Eventually, I could find a dirt road, probably BLM land, and drive down it until I found a place where I could leave the car behind, and I could start walking. It would take very little time until I found myself alone with resounding stillness. From my feet planted firmly on the desert floor to the vaulted ceiling of the desert sky, I would begin to disappear into the vast landscape.

But, on another level, the loss is not temporary.The natural world that I grew up with is gone. Winters are warmer, storms are stronger, and formerly familiar wild animals are now rare or absent.

Living inside the Beltway has taught to me value a resource that I once took for granted—wilderness. The opportunity to find inspiration and solace in a landscape without roads and motors, where I can plant one foot in front of the other and walk until my pulse slows down to match the rhythm of the world around me, simply cannot be replaced by museums or restaurants. And yet, in Utah, politicians and bureaucrats seem determined to squander this precious resource by giving it away for a fraction of its value to the oil, gas, or coal industry, by designating roads in places where only trails exist, or by refusing to manage off road vehicle use in a way that would preserve opportunities for solitude and silence. Utah seems determined to throw its pearls to the swine.

#Pilgrimage #Hope #miles

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