Waking Up in Trump’s America

We watched in disbelief, then horror, as a sea of red swept across the electoral map on election night. We awoke the next morning to find ourselves living in a failed state, where principle, integrity, and civility no longer exist. Half the country cheered, and half jeered. Then, things turned nasty, and it wasn’t just the women that our new president-elect characterized in the last debate. Despite the protests, which broke out, ironically, on the anniversary of Krystallnacht, which marked the beginning of the European Holocaust instigated by the National Socialist German Workers Party. In this case, the rioters were leftists, fearful that the American election had sown the seeds of a new holocaust, sparked by conservative fear  of difference and belief in strict social order.

Our personal preference is toward progressive political action. Progressive thinking implies progress is achieved by increased happiness for all: equal opportunity for education and advancement, equal rights for all genders whether biological or behavioral, and equal access for all through public support of transportation, information services, and education. And, most importantly, an hospitable environment: clean water, clean air, safe cities and highways, and protection and/or relief from crime and natural disasters.

So, how does that align with the offerings in this year’s election cycle? Same as always: Conservatism, as practiced in our nation in this age, defines collective happiness as when everyone behaves the same: speaks the same language, forms families with male and female heads and well-behaved children, saves for education, is self-sufficient, works hard at an in-demand skill, and worships the same gods in the same way. Individuals who fail at one or more of these deserve no pity, and are to be deported, incarcerated, denied entrance, disenfranchised, or otherwise removed from polite society. A conservative federal government exists to provide protection from foreign threats, uncontrolled immigration, and domestic crime.

If groups of people, in local communities or economic collectives (states) wish to partake of any other services for the common economic good to promote competitive industry, such as education or transportation, they should pay according to their need, the funds to be collected and managed by the local or state government. Industry provides jobs, therefore should not be regulated in any way, so as to maximize profit to entrepreneurs as an incentive to workers to emulate their success. Thus, happiness is seen as an achievable goal, a reward for hard work and adherence to the social norm.

Sorry, but, to a progressive, this looks like an oppressive, dystopian society, one that creates immense wealth for the few and an environmental nightmare for the many, as well as punishing non-conformists in a puritanical, authoritarian regime. To a progressive, government is what we decide to do together as a nation, for the common good; and locally, for local issues and interests: build good roads to promote commerce and allow freedom of movement for all; build and maintain good schools to educate all citizens to take active roles in society and develop skills to earn a living; protect the environment by regulating air and water quality; provide publicly-funded infrastructure for power, communications, and transportation so all citizens have access to basic services needed to compete for jobs and live in comfortable housing.

Shortly after the middle of the 20th century, Fiscal Conservatism, the hallmark of the Republican Party–against regulation of industry and for local financing of the commons–sought to gain votes by cohabiting with Social Conservatism, as embodied by the more god-fearing (therefore authoritarian) Christian fundamentalist sects. In the course of the last half-century, the public campaign for Republican candidates has focused on single-issue policies that are most sacred to fundamentalist Christians: sexual behavior, including contraception and abortion. The pro-business, anti-environmental, anti-regulation policies are still in full-court press, but don’t get any publicity, nor are their merits considered by the Christian Right in their quest for control of human sexuality.

Progressive ideals recognize that diversity generates synergy and new ideas that benefit all of society. Yes, English is the de facto common language, by virtue of the native language of the majority of early settlers in this relatively new country of ours. My ancestors, four generations and more back, spoke French or German or Norwegian when they arrived here, and learned English to better communicate with each other and with the government (or, in some cases, early in the last century, to display loyalty, as the U.S. was at war with countries that spoke their native tongue). Our newer neighbors, relatives, and some of our descendants today speak Hmong, Vietnamese, Spanish, Japanese, Russian, Finnish, German, Ukrainian, Hindi, Tibetan, and other languages, as first, second, or third-generation Americans. English is the the common bond, but no one should have to give up his heritage to avoid offending a paranoid conservative whose grandparents most likely didn’t speak English, either.

Despite what conservatives preach, the Constitution was not drafted as a Christian manifesto. Our founders were sophisticated intellectuals of their time, who understood that Christianity was primarily a religion of Europe, with many different interpretations. By the 18th Century, Christianity had fractionated, the result or cause of political conflicts throughout Europe, between the Roman Catholic Church (Catholic meaning “Universal” in Latin), the Church of England, and the Reformation movement: Lutheranism in central Europe and Calvinism and Puritanism in Great Britain. All of these spread to America, but establishment of a State Religion, as had been the practice in Europe, was forbidden by the Constitution.

Our founders were also well aware of and had studied Judaism (Christian Europe had vacillated between tolerance and persecution of Jews for centuries), Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism, Confucianism, and other sects, all of which were covered under the blanket “freedom of religion” principle of the new country. At the same time, “freedom of religion” permitted open proselytizing by Christian missionaries, though this was most actively practiced by slave owners in the States and the Roman missions in the Spanish territories later acquired by the U.S., ministering to the indigenous peoples.

Later, fundamentalist sects evolving out of the Calvinist movement spread throughout the westward expansion. Other sects rose spontaneously, capitalizing on the innate need for spirituality among the European diaspora: many immigrants fled from famine and war in their birth countries, leaving their religious traditions behind. As the country grew, local laws tended to impose fundamentalist Christian morality on civil behavior, resulting in many laws that fall well outside the common ethics shared by most religions. Laws tended more to the side of asceticism than hedonism, particularly in matters of sexual behavior and gender roles, where behavior between “consenting adults,” of same or different genders, falls into the category of “sin in the eyes of God” and was therefore criminalized, and continues to be in the criminal code in the most socially conservative states.

The pro-business policy of low taxes appeals to the hopes of the lower classes that they have a chance to become rich, and downplays the reality: inadequate funding of infrastructure suppresses growth that brings prosperity to the many. Untaxed and unregulated industry quickly overwhelms existing infrastructure, leaving communities impoverished and unattractive, with broken roads, plundered resources, and polluted air and water. Instead of sustaining a prosperous community through proper taxation or equitable pay scales for employees, industries use bloated profits to build factories overseas that reap even more profits from lower taxes, less regulation, and lower wages. Nevertheless, voters fail time and time again to reverse this trend, with business policies inexorably intertwined with their strongly-held spiritual beliefs. Single-issue voters continue to vote against their own welfare, in an often misguided attempt to appease their gods through civil legislation to enforce their interpretation of morality, that often infringes on the very concept of isolation of church and state–freedom of religion also implies freedom from religion and demands respect for all beliefs.

So, when an authoritarian businessman who embodies the worst in entrepreneurial greed and disdain for governmental regulation proposes himself as the anointed leader of the Republican Party, the target constituency is just fine with that, regardless of his temperament, personal morality, or qualifications for public office. He promises to “Make America Great Again,” by bringing back jobs that have been overcome by progress and industries that have been deemed harmful to the environment and by reversing social progress of the past century. He also upholds the other cornerstone of Republican philosophy, protection from external threats, promising to be the most hawkish of modern leaders once inaugurated.

The most egregious policies promoted by our president-elect are racist and anti-religious-freedom in nature, disguised as immigration control (against immigration from Mexico and Central America) or national security (characterizing Muslim refugees from the Middle East as terrorists). These policies are attractive to the minority of white supremacists and nationalists, some of whom appear destined to hold prominent positions in the new administration.

Our country has been at war with anti-American extremists, who happen to be Muslim, for the past 15 years, during which the population has become increasingly fearful of anyone who fits their impression of what a Muslim looks like. Muslim women wearing their traditional head coverings have been attacked on the streets, as have persons with any “unusual” head covering, including non-Muslim women with skin\ conditions and Sikh men, who are followers of a completely different and peaceful religion originating in India and wear a distinctive turban style unlike any head covering used by Middle Eastern men. Xenophobia has made America a very dangerous place to be non white or dress in clothing you can’t get at Wal-Mart, and our new administration only promises to exploit our collective fear of the different.

Now in semi-retirement, we have spent much time in the last few years traveling across America, by automobile and bicycle, giving us a close-up immersion in the quality of life in the areas through which we pass. We note a strong contrast between Republican-controlled states and more progressive states: the so-called Red states are characterized by poorly-maintained roads, limited public facilities, lack of viable small businesses and extreme poverty in rural areas, and isolated enclaves of opulent mansions. Industry is largely huge, dirty, and noisy. When traveling by bicycle, we need to provision ourselves as if traveling through trackless desert, with several day’s food supply to sustain us between rare food stores, and ride slowly on dangerously rough and narrow roads.

In so-called Blue states, there are thriving small industrial complexes even in rural areas, well-kept modest housing that indicates a thriving middle class, and new construction indicating economic recovery. Small towns are filled with new immigrants from troubled or overcrowded areas of Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, with different mannerisms, cuisine, native languages, religions, and appearance from the Eastern European and Scandanavian immigrants who settled these areas in the 19th and early 20th centuries, for the same reasons.

This melding of different cultures and propering local entrepreurism is the America we grew up in, in the mid-20th century, but it bears no resemblance to Trump’s America. Trump’s America is a much darker vision of isolationism, shifting blame for a deteriorating economy to sinful or foreign interlopers rather than destructive industrial practices and corporate greed. As the transition develops, Trump’s America begins to look more and more like the Italy and Germany of the 1930s, a troubled time that exists now primarily in silent library histories rather than the minds and voices of those who were old enough at the time to recognize the signs, or who survived to tell the tale.

The rise of fascism in Europe and the Japanese expansionist war to control resources and preserve its culture ultimately resulted in the death of one-third the population of the planet before the conflict ended. The instant vaporization of two industrial cities in Japan made continuing the conflict to horrible to comprehend. Today, we have the capability of vaporizing every major population center on the planet within a few hours, and a president-elect who believes that such weapons exist to be used.

We are also faced with an environmental catastrophe such as the planet has not experienced for 65 million years, that could extinguish most of the living species on the planet, which the president-elect refused to acknowledge exists, let alone acknowledge that it is being caused by human industrial activity and can be mitigated by reducing the dependence on fossil fuels. Current scientific projects based on available data and models indicate that the rate of climate change can be slowed and stabilized by drastic action by all of civilization over the next few decades, but reversal of the effects already experienced will take hundreds of thousands of years. Failure to take action now will definitely result in large regions of the planet being rendered uninhabitable by humans and most animals by the end of the 21st century. There is also the possibility that the models are wrong, as changes are happening faster than projected, with the danger of a sudden run-away effect due to loss of reflectivity from the melting\ of polar ice and release of methane from hydrates locked in shallow seas and rapidly-thawing not-so-permanent permafrost.

Trump’s America may not survive Mr. Trump, and he is already 70. In the meantime, to remain as comfortable as possible, those of us who didn’t “drink the kool-ade” of the Trump revolution need to continue to resist as vociferously as necessary to protest further deterioration of our society and economy, and do what we can to prevent more rapid damage to our planet.

Disclaimer: Most of the above is my personal opinion from just living and listening over the 73 years I have been kicking dirt clods and smelling the ragweed on this planet. I didn’t cite any references in this diatribe, but you can verify any of the above assertions with your own research. I implore you to use scholar.google.com rather than Facebook, Fox News, or any of the other fake news and corporate propaganda mouthpieces. Yes, we’re progressive, maybe even what you may derisively call Lib-er-al, but we’re not going to ask you to give up your guns. We aren’t coming for them, and your new government certainly isn’t either. But, they may be coming for you. Be careful what you say, don’t wear any funny hats, and use lots of sun screen.

Road Trip 2016

When we set out on Expedition 2016 in March, we thought that the planned 4-month, 5000km bicycle adventure would be the ultimate trip for 2016, after which we would settle down and be “normal” retirees, puttering around the house, painting woodwork and shoveling out 50 years of hoarding journals, books, and hobby news.

Well, the grand expedition turned out to be only two months, most of it in a rental car rather than on the bicycle, (600km of cycling taxed our limitations).  We did see most of the planned sites in the U.S., plus a few more, the result of turning west at the Delaware Water Gap instead of continuing into New England and Eastern Canada.  We’ll save those for next year, with a different venue.

So, after arriving home in mid-May, we quickly planned more trips: a camping trip to the beach with cycling; participation in the 30th anniversary NorthWest Tandem Rally in  Klamath Falls, OR, and contemplating signing up again for a Pedal Across Wisconsin bicycle tour, this time of Door County.  We had made a down payment in 2014 for their North Woods tour, but had to cancel because of a training issue that turned out to be cardiac artery disease.  But, after thinking it over, we did something different: we are seasoned self-supported tourists and had, in 2015, gone on a successful car-bike tour of selected trails, which seems to be the preferred mode of touring for us elderly folks.  We also wanted to encourage non-local grandchildren to visit us for a change, so we hatched the plan for Road Trip 2016.

Fuel stop at a one-pump farm co-op in Rudyard, Montana, on the way home.
Fuel stop at a one-pump farm co-op in Rudyard, Montana, on the way home.

First, we made reservations at an available resort 80 km south of Sturgeon Bay, the gateway to Door County, for a week before the PAWs commercial tour (so as to not be inundated on the road with their clients and competing for attractions with 50-75 other riders).  We then convinced our grandson in Madison, Wisconsin that he needed to visit the west coast,  The plan was that he would fly out to Seattle, spend a week or so, then we would drive back to Wisconsin, stopping at tourist attractions along the way.

2016-08-19-16-50-46The plan got underway, with a trip to the Pacific Ocean beach, near where we had camped earlier, so we were familiar with the territory and things to do and see; a visit with his cousins in Olympia, and culminating with a tour of Seattle Center and the iconic Space Needle.  Then, off across the country, oblivious to the fact that we hadn’t done a major road trip with teenagers for over 35 years.

cjroadtrip2016The first few days went well, with stops at Multnomah Falls, a natural ice cave and the Craters of the Moon volcanic monument in Idaho, the Museum of the Rockies (Dinosaurs!) in Bozeman, and Custer Battlefield.  We stayed mostly at motels with indoor pools, giving the young man a few hours to work off the ennui generated from being trapped in the cramped back seat while endless bleakness crawled by and cellular data waxed and waned and then disappeared altogether in the desolation that is northeastern Wyoming.  About then, his computer crashed, a broken display cable.  The adventure became akin to traveling to the space station in a cramped Soyuz capsule following launch in a less-efficient orbital transfer path.  He curled up in the small space and we didn’t hear much the rest of the trip.

2016-08-27-16-27-21A stop at Crazy Horse Monument was of interest–a massive sculpture started in his grandparents’ childhood and which will likely not be finished before he is a very old man.  Mount Rushmore, with four presidents squeezed into a smaller mountaintop, was less impressive, even after dragging his grandparents up the hundreds of stairs to the viewpoint below the faces.

Corn Palace, Mitchell, SD: 2016 theme: Rock & Roll Hall of Fame
Corn Palace, Mitchell, SD: 2016 theme: Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

We retaliated by taking a tour of the Corn Palace, where this year’s theme, massive portraits of rock and roll legends from our youth, was realized in mosaics of ears of corn, covering the exterior of the huge auditorium.  We followed up by a walk-through at closing time of Arnold’s Park, a century-old amusement park in northern Iowa where I spent my teen-aged years watching people with money spending theirs on a good time, like riding the rickety wooden roller coaster, which horrified the grandchild raised in a more safety-conscious age.  The roller coaster was still running, held up by new, as yet unpainted, spindly sticks here and there.  Like 60 years ago, we just watched, then moved on.

Across Iowa, we stopped (more of a “drive-by howdy” than a stop) at our daughter’s tiny goat farm on the outskirts of “Brick City,” to be nibbled by the goats and pat the heads of Drake and Moose, the huge house dogs.  Apprehensive at first, our young charge soon felt at home with his newly-found relatives (but not necessarily with the goats). We soon moved on, back to the more familiar Wisconsin and home.

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Viewpoint at Inspiration Point in the Arcadia Dunes area on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan.

Shed of our grand-parental responsibilities, we headed for Milwaukee, then followed the lake shore through Chicago and the Indiana dunes,  up the eastern shore through Michigan, along scenic roads we hadn’t ridden on our 2013 bicycle tour.

Mackinac Island 2016 from Larye Parkins on Vimeo.

A return trip to Mackinac Island: this time,we rode the perimeter of the island, in both directions, and explored some of the interior roads. The afternoon crowds brought many amateur bicyclists, creating a bit of a hazard to navigation.

At Mackinaw City, we unlimbered our bug-encrusted bike from the top of the car and spent most of a day touring Mackinac Island, a bit more leisurely and thoroughly than we had time for in ’13.  With a bit more time to sight-see this year, we wandered over to the Painted Cliffs along the south shore of Lake Superior, working our way back east to Sault Ste. Marie.

Castle Rock, on Lake Superior's Painted Cliffs
Castle Rock, on Lake Superior’s Painted Cliffs

In the morning, we watched an ore boat work its way through the locks–through the fence, as the facility didn’t open to visitors until late morning, by which time we were headed south, covering in a few hours what had taken us six days on the bicycle, to spend a week exploring the Wisconsin shore of Lake Michigan.  On the way, we took a side trip from Sault Ste. Marie to Whitefish Point, where the museum features the story of the Edmund Fitzgerald, ore-carrier that sank with all hands in a November 1975 storm.

Mariners Trail from Larye Parkins on Vimeo.

The first day on the Wisconsin coast, we took the bicycle down the Mariner’s Trail from Two Rivers to Manitowoc, realizing as we came upon the USS Cobia (SS-245), docked in the river next to the Wisconsin Maritime Museum, that this is where 28 Gato-class submarines were built in WWII.  Later in the week, we returned by car to tour the well-preserved submarine and the museum.  The next day, we did a recon of Door County,  Sturgeon Bay to Egg Harbor seemed a good bike route, but the northern end of the peninsula is quite hilly. On the way back, we got buffeted by heavy rain, so were glad we hadn’t chosen to ride this day.

Spaceship 1, the first non-government spacecraft to reach 100km altitude, and which won the X-Prize, 2004.
Spaceship 1, the first non-government spacecraft to reach 100km altitude, and which won the X-Prize, 2004.

Back at the resort, we planned our week around the weather forecast, which was punctuated with thunderstorm activity through the week.  A tour of the submarine and museum in Manitowoc was on the agenda, for a not-so-stormy day, as the submarine tours are cancelled on wet days.  We also took a rainy-day excursion over to Oshkosh to visit the Experimental Aircraft Association museum, which we hadn’t been to in fifteen years or so.  In midweek, the weather cleared over Door County, so we took the noon ferry to Washington Island for a bicycle ride around the island, lunch and the Island Cafe and gelato at the dairy and lavender farm.

Washington Island from Larye Parkins on Vimeo.

A brief (2-minute) tour of Washington Island, Door County, Wisconsin. The island is a quiet, gently rolling oasis a 30-minute ferry ride from the end of WI 42.

Finally, it was time to head for home, with an impromptu stop in Jefferson, Wisconsin for the regional fiber festival, where Judy bought yet another weaving shuttle from the Woolgathers, who made her portable box loom.  We stopped in Middleton to visit our son for a couple of days: the car requested an oil change, so we took advantage of the shop time to ride another trail, this one north along U.S. 12., conveniently near the auto dealer.  Another rainy day, we took a tour of Olbrich Botanical Gardens, between Madison and Monona.

The Thai Pavilion at Olbrich Botanical Gardens, Madison, WI
The Thai Pavilion at Olbrich Botanical Gardens, Madison, WI

As we made our way west, we drove up the Mississippi on the Wisconsin side, to La Crosse, and to Rushford, Minnesota, on the Root River Trail, for an evening bike ride on trail section we missed last year.  The next day, we drove across southern Minnesota, sticking to the county roads that follow the route of the old U.S. 16, avoiding I-90, which didn’t exist when I grew up in the area.  After arriving in the midst of a heavy thunderstorm, we met my aunt and cousin for dinner at the local V.F.W. post.

Return to Root River from Larye Parkins on Vimeo.

A return to the Root River Trail in southeastern Minnesota, to ride the Rushford-Peterson segment. This is an evening ride, with the sun low up the valley. At 30 sec, two deer bolt up the trail and into the brush on the right.

Early the next morning, we took the old U.S. 71 north, a route I traveled many times in my youth to visit relatives in central Minnesota. But, this time, our destination was to Judy’s cousin in Devils Lake, North Dakota, so we headed west on I-94, north on I-29, and finally west on U.S. 2,  After our visit, we continued west on U.S. 2 into Montana, leaving the Hi-Line at Browning for a quick tour through Glacier National Park, crossing east to west for the first time, and crossing the park completely for the first time since our bicycle tour in 1988.

Mission Valley, Montana
Mission Valley, Montana

We spent a few days visiting our nephew Rick in Polson–strange to be next door to the  land we had owned for more than 20 years: the tiny cabin we had built now belongs to a young couple who will be building a home in which to raise their family, with the cabin as a base and future guest quarters, as we had once hoped to do.

Lewiston, ID - Clarkston, WA, at the confluence of the Clearwater and Snake Rivers.
Lewiston, ID – Clarkston, WA, at the confluence of the Clearwater and Snake Rivers, with the old Spiral Highway up Lewiston Hill in the foreground..

A trip up the Bitterroot to see some of our many friends was the last diversion on our long road trip.  Turning westward, we chose to take U.S. 12 across Idaho, a pleasant, slow route with low traffic on a two-lane road.  We stopped in Kamiah, halfway across, a small (~1200 pop.) timber town on the Nez Perce reservation, where there was no cell phone service, making for a quiet, reflective evening, after dinner at a nearby tavern/restaurant/bowling alley.  Our route turned north at Lewiston, ID, then west at Colfax, WA.,  for a pleasant, low-traffic drive to relax us before enduring the rainy Snoqualmie Pass on I-90 and the creeping parking lots of WA 18 and I-5.  We exited the freeway on the outskirts of Olympia, preferring the city traffic to gridlock on the Interstate.

2016-09-23-17-42-23We made it through the city early enough to pick up Delia from Just Cats Hotel, so the family arrived home together after exactly a month away, all glad to be home.  Now we have two weeks to prepare for our next outing, to the apple country on Lake Chelan.

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Road Trip 2016 Route — to explore in detail and see photos at the waypoints, click on TrackMyTour.com/nLTzx

Warm Showers 2016, Part 2

This summer, the 40th Anniversary of the Adventure Cycling Association (nee BikeCentennial), has brought a surge of bicycle tourists.  No sooner had we clicked “Publish” on Part 1 of our guest gallery post that we got another round of requests.

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Conor and Erin, former Peace Corps volunteers using a bike tour to settle into life back in the U.S. after 2-1/2 years in Tanzania.
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Daniela and Christian, from Karlsruhe, Germany.

We had made plans to have our 14-year-old grandson visit us from Wisconsin in mid-August, after which we would drive him home and spend some time bicycling trails and back roads around Wisconsin and Michigan, for a second, gentler tour this year.

So, as of August 1, we put ourselves on the “not available for hosting” list with Warm Showers, having already accepted an advance request for the first week in August.  Another family from Germany, this time with two small adventurers in tow, 15 and 18 months old.  We’ve hosted babies and toddlers every couple of years or so, and the occasional dog who would rather ride bicycles than chase them.  The youngsters readily take to the traveling life, with the bicycle just another piece of furniture in their open-air home.

Stefanie and Ingitha, with their two toddlers in tow (behind Ingitha); Stefanie tows the supply trailer.
Stefanie and Ingitha, with their two toddlers in tow (behind Ingitha); Stefanie tows the supply trailer.
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We keep a supply of toys left over from when our grandsons lived with us, to entertain our younger bicycle tourist guests.

Even though we were on the “not available” list, we got one more request, via a referral by an earlier guest. In the age of the Internet, the best way to plan a bicycle tour is to search for the stories of others who have gone before, in blogs, the “Crazy Guy on a Bike” journal, Facebook, Instagram, etc. Angela, corresponding with Nico, whom she had never met, got our name and contact information and called, having arrived in Shelton late in the day with no plans. Angela had met Mira, a Czech cyclist, earlier in the day. Of course, we took them in. Mira had a meeting set up in San Francisco, so forged on ahead after they reached Astoria, but we continue to track Angela on her journey as she overcomes hardships and meets new friends on the road, as we have many other guests over the past five years, now numbering over 150. And, now and then, we succumb to that urge for the open road and adventure at 10-15km/hr and set off on our own quest.

Angela, from Canada and Mira, from the Czech Republic, riding together for a few days on their separate tours.
Angela, from Canada and Mira, from the Czech Republic, riding together for a few days on their separate tours.  Angela was three days into her first long-distance tour, and Mira was finishing the last stage of a tour of the Americas that took him from Argentina to Los Angeles and Alaska to Washington, headed for San Francisco.

As I write this, we are in Wisconsin, having dropped off our grandson near Madison and circled Lake Michigan by car, taking time to ride when we can: a return to Mackinac Island in Lake Huron, riding a shoreline trail on the west shore of Lake Michigan, and riding around Washington Island, at the northern tip of Door County, Wisconsin, covering a bit less than 100km on the bike and over 5000km in the car.  The weather has been variable, with late summer thunderstorms dictating when and where we ride, making us glad we have the car to transport us between scenic trails, and to check out road and terrain conditions before we commit to a ride.

Beware the Wiley Hacker: a Cautionary Tale

Not an approved method of securing your network...
Not an approved method of securing your network…

A while back, we wrote about rebuilding a crashed Raspberry Pi system.  In the course of reinstalling the system (on a new chip–the old SD card that contains the operating system had “worn out”), we had made a fatal slip.  This system happens to be our gateway system, i.e., connected directly to the Internet to provide us access to our files and some web services while out of the office.  Unfortunately, this also provides the opportunity for the world-wide hacker community to try to break in.

Normally, we have safeguards in place, like restricting which network ports are open to the outside and which machines and accounts are allowed login access.  However, in our haste to get the new system up and running as quickly as possible, we connected the device to the Internet to download upgrades before the configuration was complete, meaning the system was exposed without full protection for several hours to several days.

Screenshot-larye@raspberrypi2: -var-log
One hour’s worth of break-in attempts by hackers. Note that attempts to access system accounts (root, pi) are denied because we don’t allow external logins for these accounts.  The accounts that are allowed are restricted to public-key authentication (basically, a 1700-character random password).  Attempts on this one-hour snapshot come from four different sources: Porto, Portugal; Shanghai and Baoding in China; and Tokyo, Japan (possibly hacked machine, as the name is spoofed).

Now, our security logs record, on a normal day, hundreds of break-in attempts (see screenshot above).  We aren’t the Democratic National Committee or Sony, just a small one-man semi-retired consulting business.  But, the hackers use automation: they don’t just seek out high-value targets, they scan the entire Internet, looking for any machine that isn’t fully protected.  If they can’t steal data or personal information, they will use your machine to hack other machines.  If you use Microsoft Windows, you are undoubtedly familiar with all sorts of malware, as there are many tens of thousands of viruses, trojan horses, adware, ransomware, and other malevolent software that invades, corrupts, and otherwise takes over or cripples your machine.  Unix systems are less susceptible to these common attacks, but, if an account can be compromised, or a bug in the login process exploited, eventually a persistent attacker can gain system privileges and install a ‘rootkit,’ a software package that replaces the common monitoring and logging software, redirecting calls through the rootkit, which hides its existence and activities from the reporting tools, even the directory listing utilities.

Once an attacker takes over a Unix or Linux machine, there is no limit to the damage they can do on the Internet, as Unix/Linux is the basis of most of the servers on the Internet, and can become as a SPAM server, web-spoofer, or hacker-bot itself.  (Microsoft Windows Server has the rest, nearly half, and they are even easier to break into.)  I began to suspect this might have happened when normal system functions failed to terminate or run correctly.  We have a lot of custom software built on this machine, which runs on a scheduler.  The machine got slower and slower, and it was apparent that the jobs run by the scheduler were never exiting, filling up the process table with jobs that weren’t doing anything, except taking up space, which is always at a premium.  Clearing out all the jobs, restarting the machine, and starting the processes manually worked–until about 2:00pm.  Very suspicious: a rootkit, once installed, can repair or re-install itself even if the administrator restores many of the co-opted command files by normal upgrades or by a conscious attempt to recover from the intrusion.

The main problem seemed to be with /bin/sh, the system shell, which is actually /bin/dash, a shared object.  Cron, the scheduler, uses dash to run the jobs, where the normal user login shell uses /bin/bash, a non-linkable executable shell with similar functionality.  A rootkit is generally constructed as a filter, wrapped around the co-opted commands, so it would be easier to link to the *real* /bin/dash in an undetectable manner from the filter program than it would to wrap /bin/bash.  In this case,  assuming an intrusion was the cause, something went wrong, rendering dash non-functional.  Perhaps the intrusion was not compiled for the ARM  processor used by Pi, though most of a rootkit would be scripted to be portable among different CPU architectures and Unix/Linux versions.

An analogy to the problem would be like finding out who let the horses out: it is easy to identify wolf or horse-thief tracks outside the barn when the door is barred, but, if you left it open and the horses have bolted, it is more difficult to find out what happened–the traces are covered. I did install some intrusion-detection software, but running it after the tracks are covered over is usual a futile effort.  However, there were enough questionable traces to warrant taking corrective action.  Besides, even if the problem had been caused by some inadvertent misconfiguration on my part (unlikely, considering the fact that the machine could be made to run for several hours before the problem reasserted itself), the solution was clear:  reinstall everything.

The first step is to backup the data, including configurations.  Now, this is not just an ordinary computer:  Raspbian, the Debian-based operating system distribution designed for the Raspberry Pi computer, comes with a simple desktop intended to introduce new users to Linux.  But, this machine doesn’t use the desktop and is not even connect to a monitor most of the time: it is an internet gateway, web server, and custom webcam driver, so has a lot of “extras,” both loaded from software repositories and written especially for this installation.  Backups are important, since much of the software only exists on this machine.  And, since we only have one camera, fail-over isn’t possible without physically moving the camera from one machine to another, not a trivial exercise, as the connection is on the motherboard rather than an external connector.

Now comes the glitch: Since the introduction of the Raspbian operating system, it has been based on Debian 7; but, since Debian 8 was recently released, a new version of Raspbian is also available.  So, the machine was rebuilt with Raspbian “Jessie”, replacing Raspbian “Wheezy” (the releases named after Toy Story characters rather than just the numbers–as with Apple OS/X, Debian releases tend to have names in addition to release numbers).  Installation on Raspberry Pi is not like other computers.  Since there is no external boot device, the operating system “live” image is loaded onto the SD card that serves as the boot device and operating system storage.  Initial configuration is best done without a network connection, since the startup password is preset and well-known.

So, avoiding that mistake (booting on a network with the default passwords, the single most preventable source of hacker intrusions), we booted with the network cable disconnected and a monitor and keyboard attached, changed the password and expanded the system to fill the SD card, set up the other user accounts, then shut down the system, removed the SD card, and mounted it on the backup server to finish transferring vital data, like the security keys and system security configurations.  In larger systems with a permanent internal boot drive, such “hacker-proof” installation is done on an isolated network, but, since the boot drive on a Pi is removable, it is easy enough to edit the configuration files on another system.

So, with the system fairly well hardened by securing the system accounts and user accounts, it was rebooted attached to the network and the system upgrades and extra software packages (like the web server) installed.  So far, so good.  But, since we upgraded the operating system, the server packages were also upgraded, most notably moving from the webserver, Apache, version 2.2 to version 2.4.  Apache has been the predominant web server software on the Internet for 20 years, so it is in a constant state of upgrade, for security and feature enhancements.  Between version 2.2 and 2.4, many changes to the structure of the configuration files  were made, so that not only did the site configuration need to be restored manually, but there was a fairly steep learning curve to identify the proper sequence and methodology by which to apply the changes.

Then, of course, were the additional Python modules needed to be installed to support the custom software, which involved downloading and compiling the latest versions of those, since Python 2 also upgraded from version 2.7.3 to 2.7.9 (we haven’t yet ported the applications to Python 3, which moved from version 3.2.3 to 3.4.2 between Debian 7 and Debian 8).  Finally, there were other tweaks, like comparing system configuration files to update group memberships for access to the camera hardware, loading the camera drivers, and setting file ownership and permissions for data and program files.

We could have saved most of this by sticking with Raspbian Wheezy, but eventually, support for older systems goes away, and the newer systems are usually more robust and faster: open source software evolves rapidly, with new minor releases every six months and new major releases every two years for most distributions, and an average life span of five years for maintenance of major releases and a year for minor releases.  As we said before, Linux is free, if your time is worth nothing.  The price of keeping current is constant maintenance.  Patch releases occur as they are available, with maintenance upgrades almost daily.

Finally, after a week of tweaking and fiddling, the webcam service is back up and running.  And, the security logs show break-in attempts every few minutes, from multiple sites all over the world (one from Portugal recently, others from unassigned addresses–ones with assigned addresses undoubtedly come from computers that have been compromised and used as hacking robots, as hackers don’t want to be traced back to their own computers, ever).

So, the moral of this post is:  don’t ever expose a stock, unmodified computer system directly on the Internet (which is difficult to do, when all upgrades, new software, etc is available only through download from the Internet–which should be accomplished only from behind a proven firewall).  But, you can set passwords and change system accounts before joining a network.  And, if your computer is hacked, take it to a professional, and don’t grumble about the cost or time it takes to restore it.  Pay for malware scanning software and keep your subscription up to date, as well as scheduling upgrades on a regular bases.  And, if you are a professional, don’t take shortcuts (i.e., install and configure off-net or behind a firewall), keep good backups, install intrusion-detection software early, and check for security upgrades daily.  Change the default passwords immediately, and create a new, weirdly named administrative user, and deny external logins for all administrative users.  Use two-factor authentication and public-key encryption on all authorized user accounts.  They are out there, and they are coming for your computer, even if you don’t have data worth stealing: they can use your computer to spread SPAM or steal data from someone else.

Warm Showers 2016, Part 1

Despite our absence on our own shortened “Beyond 70” tour mid-March through mid-May, 2016 brought a steady stream of Warm Showers guests. We had to turn down a few while we participated in the NorthWest Tandem Rally in Klamath Falls, Oregon over the July 4th week, and plan to take a short break at the end of July to get in some more cycling and camping before heading east at the end of August for an early September tour of Door County, Wisconsin. This entry covers the 39 guests we have had through 22 July (including Toph, the dog).

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Cara came through in early March, headed south. With El Nino, the bicycle touring season in the Pacific Northwest is nearly year-around.
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Carina and Mat, from the U.K., arrived in mid-May, traveling from south to north on the Pacific Coast.
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Nico, from Iowa, traveling down the Pacific Coast at a more leisurely pace than most. As of this writing, he was in Los Angeles.
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Mark and Seth also traveled down the Pacific Coast.
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Simon, from Switzerland, was a “drop-in,” guided to our house from downtown by our neighbor after finding there were no campgrounds nearby. He was already a Warm Showers member, but hadn’t made firm plans for daily distance, counting on finding campgrounds near the end of the day. Simon was touring south on the Pacific Coast route.
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Justin was riding north to British Columbia and points east, to the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, having cycled from his home in mid-Texas to California and up the Sierra Crest route.
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Betty and Robert, AirBnB hosts and new Warm Showers members from Vancouver, BC, were touring to San Francisco.
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Lisa, headed north from Portland to tour the Canadian Rockies, crossing paths with Tony and his dog Toph, below.

During the busy part of the summer, we often get multiple requests for the same night. Sometimes the travelers are headed the same direction and may meet on the road, but sometimes they are headed in opposite directions, as were Lisa and Tony. Tony had rescheduled because of the medical emergency with Toph. We have plenty of room, with three guest rooms, large open porch, and large format leather furniture in the living room, having hosted seven once.

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Tony, from southern California, was traveling the Pacific Coast route with his small dog, Toph. Our cat insists that dogs camp outside, so Tony and Toph pitched their tent on the porch.
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Toph cut her feet on shells on a beach a few days before and the cuts got infected, so she got the dreaded cone the day before she and Tony arrived.
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Brian and Heather, finishing a loop around the Olympic Peninsula.

Shelton is a nexus for several popular routes: The most used is the Pacific Coast Route, with riders chosing the ACA route between Bremerton and Elma, or riding down U.S. 101 from either Port Townsend or Port Angeles. Some choose to take a short cut to Centralia via Olympia (or around Olympia on Delphi Road, skirting the Capitol Forest), and some head west from Elma for a more direct route via U.S. 101 and the 6800-meter-long Megler-Astoria Bridge across the Columbia River. Some extend to the Washington coast at Westport. The Olympic Peninsula Loop is also popular, but most riders continue south along the coast from Aberdeen, so bypass us entirely. Some riders starting or ending in Seattle also choose to follow the route of the Seattle-To-Portland ride, east of Puget Sound, and also bypass Shelton. This year, we’ve gotten riders who have ridden the Sierra Crest Trail through California and Oregon and continue on the Pacific Coast Route to Vancouver. We also have gotten, from time to time, Trans-Am riders who head up the coast from Newport, Oregon to Seattle to fly home.

And, there are some riders who are in the middle of a Grand Tour, either from Alaska or the Yukon Territory to South America or a loop tour of the U.S., via the Southern Tier, Pacific Coast or Sierra Crest, and Northern Tier. And, of course, riders to and from Portland, Oregon, the undisputed bicycle capital of the West Coast. Not everyone stops in Shelton: we see a lot of riders throughout the day, passing through, and some who stop at motels, the other Warm Showers host on the north side of town, or Couch Surfing hosts.

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Glenn and Bobbie had ridden across the Southern Tier from Florida to California and up the Sierra Crest Route, headed for the San Juan islands.

Another night with two groups: Veteran tourists Glenn and Bobbie, finishing their tour at Anacortes, while Jason and Amy, below, first-time tourists, were just starting a cross-country tour. Conversation is interesting when comparing notes. From our own experience touring the Canadian Rockies 28 years ago, much of the fun is meeting and sharing stories with other tourists on the road.

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Jason and Amy were headed north from Portland to Anacortes to join friends on the Northern Tier route to the East Coast.
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Ana, a graduate student at UBC in Vancouver, BC, was taking a summer break from her studies to ride the northern half of the Pacific Coast route.
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Mark finished the Trans-Am route from Virginia to Oregon and intended to take a break from cycling to hike in Colorado before heading back east on the Northern Tier route. He stayed a couple of days to recover from a bout of food poisoning, a risk when food stops are sometimes limited to convenience stores.

After Mark headed north toward Seattle, we clamped our Bike Friday tandem on top of the car and headed down the Oregon Coast, following the route of many of our guests. We spent the night at an AirB&B near Seal Rock, a nice couple who recommended a gastrobpub nearby and fed us a nice breakfast. We then drove to Eugene to augment our Bike Friday accessories and ride the wonderful trails, staying at an AirB&B downtown across from a brewery and pub. After another stop in Rogue River to visit relatives, we spent several days at Klamath Falls, along with 650 other tandem riders, for the 30th Anniversary Northwest Tandem Rally. Then, we headed north, following the Sierra Crest Route to Bend, then over the Cascades to camp at the beautiful Silver Falls State Park, hiking to several of the breathtaking waterfalls.

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Judy with Julia, Christina, and Dana, friends from Ottawa, Canada cycling from Vancouver to San Francisco.

While camping in Oregon, we got several Warm Showers requests, which we regretfully had to decline. But we would be home in time to receive Christina and her friends. Knowing we were arriving from our own trip at about the same time, they graciously offered to bring and cook dinner. What a fun evening, and it gave us time to unpack before they arrived.

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Hugh (right) and Liam, a father-son team cycling the Pacific Coast route from their home in North Vancouver, BC.
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Chris, from southern California, cycling back home from Vancouver, BC. Chris’ arrival got delayed a day to ship his front rack and panniers home to lighten the load on the hills ahead, on his first self-supported tour.
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Jamine, Taylor, Mia, and Nicole, housemates from Portland on a tour to Bellingham.
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Jacy and Tom, on the last day of their tour from New York to Virginia to Oregon to Seattle.
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Ryan, from Philadelphia, on tour on the Pacific Coast, starting from Vancouver.

Jacy, Tom, and Ryan arrived about the same time, from different directions, and at different ends of their tours. It was interesting to see the contrast between seasoned tourists about to finish a long tour and someone just starting out. Many of our travelers start in Vancouver or Seattle, on their first long tour, and are just finding their limits, so they arrive in that period of doubt about the feasibility of continuing on, whether the destination is 200, 2,000 or 20,000 kilometers away. This year, the 40th anniversary of the Trans-Am tour and founding of the Adventure Cycling Association, has seen more riders finishing that tour with a final week-long dash from Newport, Oregon to Seattle, as well as riders following the warm weather north on the relatively new Sierra Crest route.

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Ludo, Pierre, and Phillip, friends from Montreal, cycling from the Pacific Coast. They intended to start in Seattle, but had to switch plans to start in Vancouver, so rescheduled to arrive three days later than planned.

Seasoned tourists Pierre and Ludo, knowing how hard it is to fill up hungry cyclists, supplemented our pizza and salad offering with a pound of spaghetti, with pesto sauce, and also broke out packets of oatmeal in the morning to supplement our bagel/cold cereal/fruit. buffet

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Genie and Lydia, a mother-daughter team on the last day of their tour. Lydia started her tour in Paraguay 19 months ago, and Genie joined her in Los Angeles for the trip north, riding the Sierra Crest to Yosemite, and the Pacific Coast the rest of the way, ending in Seattle.

Genie and Lydia had arranged to meet Brad, a cycle tourist they met in the Sierras, who lives in Puyallup, for dinner, so invited us along as well. A fun evening, at a local BBQ restaurant we hadn’t been to before, being vegetarian. However, we found lots of good items on the menu with meat optional.

As has been our custom, we publish two lists of Warm Showers guests, divided at mid-summer or before and after our own tour, typically in late summer. This year, we changed tour plans in mid-tour, breaking up what was to be a four-month expedition into a series of short tours and weekend cycle/camping outings. We’re probably going to be unavailable most of the rest of the summer now, with our own travel schedules, but will, no doubt, take in tourists when we are home for more than a few days.

Musings on Unix, Bicycling, Quilting, Weaving, Old Houses, and other diversions

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