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It is a short chapter in A.L. Westgard’s Tales of a Pathfinder, and it doesn’t appear until page 83. But it’s an important one. It clearly seeks to establish his claim as the most-traveled pathfinder of his day.

The chapter is curiously titled “Deadly Figures.” Westgard begins by listing the top two questions he gets: What kinds of tires do you use, and how far have you driven? His answer to the second?

My answer is invariably that I do not know, though I have most likely traveled more different (note the different) miles on rubber tires than any man in the world. This I believe to be true.

In the old days, drivers had to affix their own odometers to the dash. While inconvenient, it was much easier to roll back--or forward, depending on whom you were trying to impress.

But to establish the truth, Westgard needs more than  belief. So he  proceeds to deconstruct the assertion of some “relatively” young man who told reporters he  had traveled 800,000 miles in 15 years. A little math from Westgard reveals that the man would have had to travel 141 miles a day,  every day. It’s possible, Westgard writes. But given the condition of roads in those days, it is “hardly within the range of probability.”

Let the record show that Westgard was not one to make idle boasts, nor one to tolerate them either. After demolishing the young man’s claim, Westgard reassures the reader that he limits himself to a simple proclamation, that he has made “more trips across the United States, East and West, North and South, than any other man, and that those trips were mostly over different routes.”

I’m still wondering what was so deadly about those figures. I’m also wondering about his tires. Surely he could have earned a little extra cash for in-book product placement.

If I remember one book from college (or more accurately, one series of books), it’s the Gulag Archipelago, by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who died yesterday.

Sure, I read One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich in high school, like so many others. But it was the Gulag Archipelago that made an impression, It wasn’t assigned reading, but the three or four volumes were right there on the reserve shelf in the college library where I worked. It guaranteed a semester’s worth of absorption for the 10 hours a week I spent on the job.

One quote still stands out from all those thousands of pages, though I might mangle it a bit here: “Most men go through life without knowing what deep well of evil they may fall into.” Hopefully you get the gist.

The book, more than any other, opened my eyes to the fatal fallacies of ideology, whether on the left or on the right. They ultimately elevate ideas over people, allowing for atrocities both big and small in the name of a better tomorrow, a better homeland or a better whatever. I never really trusted any ideology again, no matter its appeals to fairness and reason. Often enough they are mirages themselves.