Skihad: A Journey to Understand America


If you have an unusual idea, it might be best to have had others in the past. A well-established history of crazy ideas tends to reduce the surprise factor at a new one, albeit at the expense of possible eye rolling. Among my past unusual ideas was a political blog that I wrote for more than six years under the name Sometimes, I referred to myself as the “pundificator” as if to mock the idea that anyone who comments on politics actually knows anything.

In September of last year, I put my pencil down. I simply could not stand writing about the back and forth of Washington politics. Importantly, I had lost confidence that I actually “knew” anything. Sure I could read, watch and listen to the usual suspects. But did they “know” anything?

Several dozen daily anti-Donald Trump news or commentary diatribes in The Washington Post did not give me confidence that the stories were accurate. The full-throated defenses of the President on Fox News felt comparably dishonest. Both began to seem more like click bait. Each writer or commentator had to serve up the daily dollop to keep his numbers up.

Please don't think me a defender of the president just because I am critical of liberal media, a frequent talking point of his. I didn't vote for him, choosing instead the Libertarian ticket of Gary Johnson and Bill Weld. If you live in the District of Columbia, it doesn't much matter what you do. The Democrat will always win.

Some call my vote a throw away, but Bill Weld was by far the best candidate in the race. Hillary Clinton did not need me, and she lost me with the “deplorables” comment. That moment actually inspired my crazy idea du jour: I wanted to learn more about those whom coastal elites look down upon.

My question was simple: Do the supposed “deplorables” really deserve it?

My previous experience suggested that the answer was a definitive “no.” In 1974, I left a lifetime on the East Coast to go and practice law in Omaha, Nebraska. It was a great place to live and, more importantly, a wonderful start to a marriage.

One of the takeaways from that five-year period, however, was the observation that Midwesterners were far more curious about residents of the coasts than vice versa. For several years, I had a contest with a friend who had moved from Boston to Houston to see which friend of our parents would say the stupidest thing when we returned to our roots for Christmas.

He won, when a Boston Brahmin said, "Oh, I thought you were out of the Marine Corps" upon being told he lived in Houston. I have no recollection whatever of any similar comment being made in the other direction.

"Deplorables" seemed a continuation of that theme. To figure out what was really going on today and why disdain for whole regions is now acceptable (to say nothing of mockery of a significant percentage of the population), I decided on some on the ground research.

I set out for a winter long driving excursion to 15 or 20 ski places in the West.

It was not the only justification. When embarking on something like Skihad (my name for the journey), it is especially helpful to have a grab bag full of reasons in case the first one falls on deaf ears.

A second one was "you can do this." There is no need for a 72-year-old retiree to sit by the fire, making only occasional forays to the front door to yell at neighborhood children.

2018 has been one of the worst snow years ever in the Rocky Mountains. An attempted departure in early January that would've passed through Arkansas and begun the skiing in New Mexico had to be aborted because, at the time, Arkansas had more snow than New Mexico did.

In late January, I set off for approximately 2 1/2 months beginning in Jackson Wyoming.

Subsequent posts under the Skihad banner will share what I have learned.