Exiting the Heliosphere - MAIDEN AMERICA IV
Profile x FBM X QBP - An Interstellar Motley Crew
Story and photos by Matt Coplon - Additional photos and captions by Dillon Leeper, Jay Schile & Kaleb Bolton
On September 5th, 1977, the United States launched Voyager 1 out of Earth’s atmosphere. It was designed to become the first manmade object to enter what we could define as the true meaning of outer space: exiting our solar system and entering into the physically unknown.
The probe is silver with black accents, a metallurgical miracle to deflect solar wind.
Voyager 1 contains devices that record plasma waves, magnetic fields, and cosmic rays.
It travels at 35,000 miles an hour.
Onboard Voyager 1, attached to its carapace, is a dormant, golden record. The brainchild of Ithaca-ites, it is a cultural ark, a grooved instrument representing all that is on this tiny rock floating through nothingness.
The scientists who created it hope that someday it will be intercepted by another life form.
And maybe, using some sort of otherworldly record player, something will know that we were here.
On August 27th, 2017, I sat on a bench seat, in a giant black and grey converted school bus, covering my face from exhaust fumes. Slowly, in front of us, drove a Subaru, and I wondered why its bumper sticker was spelled incorrectly.
“Ithaca is Gorges.”
I knew it to be a hippy town; maybe it was some inside joke, probably a witty play on words as I knew Ithaca to be centered around some higher idea of intellect. Those who I knew attending Cornell were always on a much greater plane of intelligence.
Though I’d travelled to NYC quite a bit, upstate NY was always the interstellar space of the United States.
Less dense, I reconed. Way less cosmopolitan. Cordial. The cradle of folk.
In Ithaca, we passed a house with a giant papier-mache animal, perched high on its porch. Raised above their roof by a pulley system, floated a giant papier-mache Dracula head.
There was a tacky motel next to the only Walmart, reminiscent of a much lower budget, alpine chalet, filled with aged granola types, and priced like a 5 star hotel in a wanna-be, major urban center.
And then there was Shortstop, a 50’s style car hop on the outside, a greasy, big city bodega inside, with a full staff on line to belt out hoagie after hoagie: the mascot of the Poconos.
I ordered a hoagie salad, with a pound of unseasoned seitan dumped on a head of iceburg lettuce.
It was terrible.
But it was the thought that counted.
“That’s where Carl Sagan lived.” Everyone in the giant black school bus with silver accents asked, “who?”
- Matt Coplon
“See that weird house up there on top of that rock?”
We rounded what seemed like an overly dangerous hairpin turn. The route almost appeared out of the ether. The road’s elevation change not at all gradual.
On the left was a vertical drop. Not deep enough the kill you, but the jagged debris below would suffice for a good maiming.
“That’s where Carl Sagan lived.”
Everyone in the giant black school bus with silver accents asked, “who?”
Built in 1926, Carl Sagan took residence here in what looked like a bizarre combination of Frank Loyd Wright’s frontal cortex and a bastardized version of King Ramses II’s tomb.
Collaborating with Ann Druyan, together, here, Sagan spearheaded what was to be the audio/visual, cultural totems representing our natural world as we see and experience it: the meat and potatoes of Voyager 1's golden record.
As we cruised the speed limit of 35mph through the outskirts of the Cornell Heights Historic district, the bus parked next to an electrical box. The size of the rig made parking mostly illegal, everywhere. From that poached spot, we descended into the woods. Loose gravel and sand. Root systems unearthed and ripe for tripping. Green Ash, Eastern Hemlock, Norway Spruce. And then the path levels off, the cover becomes more sparse revealing a shore on a shallow body of deathly slow moving water. There, were waders in swimsuits. There, were dogs. Someone was cooking eggs on a camping stove on uneven river rock. There were folks snatching up crawdad’s. The thermometer was floating somewhere, brick for a southerner, in the mid 60’s.
Above, to our right, nestled inside a craggy cliff face, was a 19th century mill. With minimal pause, three quarters of our clan stripped down into their boxers and climbed the slippery, offset rocks leading to the mill’s blown out windows.
Below this, a small pit of water, torn deep from centuries of snow melt pouring off the cliff face.
With pause, to prepare for the dive into frigid waters, each plunger held his breath, and then stepped off.
“What is this place?”
I’d realized we were brought here with minimal context other than, “to swim.”
“I believe it’s called six mile creek gorge?”
“Ah, yes,” I thought, “Ithaca is gorges.”
In March, 2013, a drastic change in the plasma environment hinted that Voyager 1 may be exiting the Heliosphere: the plasma environment that indicates the very last grasp our sun has upon an object in our solar system.
The silver and black probe, travelling 35,000 miles an hour held tight to those Ithaca-ites golden petroglyphs and sound bites; “Hello” in 53 languages, the musical pieces of Bach and Beethoven, a whale crying, a baby moaning.
“Johnny B. Goode” by Chuck Berry.
Voyager 1 had entered interstellar space.
"This bus, with its motley crew, with its collection of bmx cultural ephemera, shuttled out and into an interstellar space of it’s own."
- Matt Coplon
Straddling a water cooler in the center of the isle, I sat as navigator.
It was late afternoon, August 27th, 2017.
The giant black and grey school bus belched coal dark smoke as we lumbered at 35mph out of town.
We passed Carl Sagan and Ann Druyen’s home. We passed rows of small abodes housing droves of overly intelligent Cornell hippies. We passed shortstop, where, over the loud ordering speaker, the hipster clerk, remembering us from earlier that day, bode farewell to the “bmx gang.”
To my right, on the bench seat, was a thin, almost unbearably uncomfortable cushion. There, I pushed aside a filthy white striped sock and a blown out pair of extremely short jorts.
On the bus's extra large tailgate, our bikes laid strapped into a giant pile, open to the elements as we travelled southeast onto the Poconos.
Below the bench, I separated and stashed a potable gallon of water from a half-full, Artesian Spring’s jug, heavy with golden piss.
This bus, with its motley crew, with its collection of bmx cultural ephemera, shuttled out and into an interstellar space of it’s own.
Into a space, ripe, for collecting memories.
Into a space, we hoped, eager to share in our communal like-mindedness.
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