September, 1973: a reminiscence - Looking Back With 2020 Vision, Part I - CycleBlaze

December 23, 2019

September, 1973: a reminiscence

I received this photo in the mail today, an early Christmas present apparently.  It’s been decades since I’ve seen this photo, and I needed to be reminded of who the characters were and what the occasion was.  Now that I’ve got it back I want to share it here so I don’t lose it again.

Note, of course, that this has nothing to do with bicycling or our current tour.  Just turn the page as you wish.

September, 1973: On the salt flats, Great Salt Lake. Left to right: myself, Carol, Denny’s dog, Denny, Dan. A full load to fit into a canvasback Jeep on a cross country drive.
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The photo was taken by and sent to me from Carol, my first partner.  It was taken in September, 1973 - a time of significance and transition in my life that makes it easy for me to place with precision.  It was taken on the salt flats of the Great Salt Lake, when Carol and I were hitching a ride from Seattle back to West Lafayette, Indiana with two friends: Dennis, my friend from the graduate program we had both just completed at the University of Washington, and Dennis’s friend Dan.  

It was a cosy ride.  Dennis’s car was a two passenger Jeep.  Dennis and Dan rode in front and shared driving, and Carol and I sat side-saddle in back under the canvas (back before seat belts were as common, obviously), along with Dennis’s large dog and everyone’s belongings.

I’ve told the story of this epic drive countless times to friends over the last forty years.  I’ve remembered well how crowded and uncomfortable it was, but I’d completely forgotten that we had the dog in there with us too.  But it was fine - we were young, it was a lark, a big adventure, and we were excited about what lay ahead.

As background, Dennis and I had just completed a masters program in air pollution engineering a month earlier.  This was at a time when concern for the environment was a fairly new awareness in society.  The first Earth Day had occurred just three years earlier; and a year later, 1971, I got out of the army and enrolled as a student at Huxley College in Bellingham, an Environmental Studies cluster college in its first year of existence.  I was 26, idealistic, and ready to help save the world.

My post-graduate plan was to join the Peace Corps, in a new professional program focused on addressing environmental problems.  I was accepted and offered a choice of two placements: one in Botswana, to work on dust pollution; and one in Santiago, Chile to help set up an air pollution monitoring program.  I chose Chile as a better fit for my educational background.  Carol was also accepted into the Peace Corps as an English teacher, as a dual placement - we were both Santiago bound.

First though, we were on our way to San Juan, Puerto Rico for a two month immersion course in Spanish.  At the end of summer, departure was imminent and we were making final preparations to leave the country for two years.  Carol had a part time employment position, and one morning we went down to her office together to inform her employer of our plans - it must have been September 12th.  As I remember it now, her employer handed us the morning’s paper with the headline news that August Pinochet had just staged a coup the day before and had overthrown the Chilean government.  

Our plans for the Peace Corps evaporated overnight, leaving us in the lurch.  We’d spent all summer on the goals of getting into the Peace Corps program and on me completing and publishing my master’s thesis.  No real jobs, no backup plans, no commitments, our apartment rental was up at the end of the month.  Dick, a friend of Dennis’s from Purdue, was out visiting and told us of an intentional community living situation he and a friend were starting up in a massive old house in West Lafayette.  We hit it off, they had a free bedroom, and so with no other plan anyway we hitched a ride with Dennis when he drove back to his home in Chicago.

Two thousand miles is a long time to sit in the back of a Jeep with a dog and surrounded by luggage.  It’s loud, and it’s a rough and bouncy ride. The worst stretch was when we left the pavement in southern Idaho in pursuit of finding the world famous balanced rock that was marked on the Rand McNally atlas at the time.  It was an incredibly dusty road, the dust so fine that it swirled in from behind the Jeep and penetrated everything.  We were coated with fine dust, our teeth were gritty, and even our peanut butter had to be tossed out because the dust had infiltrated it.  We finally did find that balanced rock, but were disillusioned by finding that it was no longer balanced - bricks had been cemented in to prevent it from falling over.

One other episode from this ride has survived in my memory over the last 45 years.  After passing the Great Salt Lake we were driving through the Wasatch Range in northern Utah, badly in need of a place to sleep after a too-long day.  We pulled into a service station in some small town to ask if there was a motel anywhere near, and a head popped up from under the hood of a pick-up.  Go to Rosie’s place - she’ll take you in.

Rosie’s place was a hippie crash pad.  Rosie was out, but the folks there welcomed us and made room for our sleeping bags on the damp, mildewed carpet - small mushrooms were growing from one corner of it. Illegal substances were present and freely shared.  The next morning we met Rosie, hobbling around with her broken leg in a cast, fixing breakfasts and watching over her guests like a mother hen.  Not long after a friend of the family walked in through the door, announced he had just been fired, and triggered a party to celebrate his new-found freedom.

The 70’s!  The next spring I bought my first real touring bike, a Motobecane, spent my afternoons after getting home from my factory job on training rides, and in April headed off west alone with only a small rucksack on my back and a $10/day budget, planning to bike home to Seattle - my first real bike touring experience.  So, there’s a little about bicycling in this piece after all.

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Susan CarpenterGreat story Scott! Reminds me a bit of when I hitch-hiked from across the country with my college roommate in Jan, 1972. The 70's indeed!
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7 months ago
Ron SuchanekThat's a great story!
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7 months ago
Scott AndersonTo Ron SuchanekThanks, Ron. I’m so glad to see this photo again. It’s time I wrote it all down before any more details disappear into the fog.
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7 months ago
Jen GrumbyFantastic story!

I'm wondering about the parallel universe where there was no Pinochet and you did go to Santiago to set up the air pollution monitoring program. I think the air would have been cleaner when I took my first trip there in 1991. Also, I think a few people would have been better off without the oppressive military dictatorship ..
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7 months ago
Scott AndersonTo Susan CarpenterThanks, Susan. Weren’t those the times though? It all seemed so much simpler then. No one would feel safe hitchhiking across the country like we did then any more.
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7 months ago
Scott AndersonTo Jen GrumbyThis was probably the biggest head-snapping moment of my life. I’ve played out this alternate path in my mind many times, as well as the one where Carol and I had chosen Botswana instead. Actually, that’s the one I regret. I’m sure I had nothing to offer with dust control in central Africa, but I’d love to go back and see Botswana as it was so long ago.
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7 months ago
Jen GrumbyRon and I were talking about what a huge shift that must have been for you .. to be prepared for a Peace Corps assignment and then to have to suddenly change course.

Yes .. Botswana in the early 70s would have been fascinating, I'm sure.

I'm pretty fond of the universe that you and Rachael have created .. going on incredible bike tours all over the world. And certainly demonstrating how enjoyable and rich life can be from the seats of 2 pretty earth-friendly vehicles!
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7 months ago
Scott AndersonTo Jen GrumbyIt was a huge shift, but I’ve shifted gears pretty quickly for as long as I can recall. I’m not sure if that reflects flexibility or flightiness, but it works for me. Pretty exhausting for people around me though, I suspect.
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7 months ago
Suzanne GibsonGreat story, thanks for sharing.
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7 months ago
Andrea BrownThis is a great story. I shiver to think what might have happened if you already had been in Chile during the overthrow. Life is full of plot twists, isn’t it?
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7 months ago
Bruce LellmanIt's so interesting how life takes these twists and turns, how if one little thing had happened one way instead of how it did happen, your life would have evolved in a completely different way.

I wonder all the time how I survived the '70's. Now I can wonder how you did as well. Great story, Scott.
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7 months ago
Scott AndersonTo Andrea BrownIt sure is; and time is so strange, moving in fits and starts, speeding up and slowing down. So much happened back then in just a few years - a lot of drama. The plot line went pretty stale then for about 30 years, other than the suspense of wondering if I’d ever manage to stay married. It’s great to have the drama back.
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7 months ago