Publication date: 02/12/2003
There's a sacred place nearby
Of The Examiner Staff

Brad Olsen, who once shared a warehouse with several artists South of Market before they were pushed out by dot-commers, first entered the travel scene with his "World Stompers: A Guide to Travel Manifesto." Now a publisher and organizer of San Francisco's annual How Weird Street Faire, he has come out with "Sacred Places North America: 108 Destinations."

    Nina Wu: Are you a self-taught cartographer?
    Brad Olsen: I guess you could say that. I was an art major in college. I won my first award when I was 11 years old for drawing. My mom was an artist, and I just had an incredible love for maps and cartography. Since I'm in the travel business, it's convenient to work on my maps simultaneously when I write the text.
    Q: So why are you looking for sacred places?
    A: Well, for one, I have a love for travel and, to me, this is travel with a purpose. To visit these sacred places is more than just another tourist seeing the sites, but for me, a way to get something out of it in the form of a spiritual high.
    It's a way of connecting with our glorious past and reconnecting in this sometimes crazy modern age. A few summers ago, I climbed up Mount Shasta, and that was an exhilarating experience.
    Q: What's your favorite sacred place in the Bay Area?
    A: Probably Mount Tam, for many reasons. I think it's still very much like the Miwok Indians had discovered it. There's a certain amount of tranquility that can be found on the mountain. There are so many different sides and facets to Mount Tam that make for great hiking. The Miwok Indians held the whole mountain to be sacred. Me, personally, I can't really say one specific side of it. But I do like the way it drops down into the ocean and there are some waterfalls and a hot spring on the western slopes as it meets the ocean.
    Q: Why is Grace Cathedral at the top of Nob Hill a sacred spot?
    A: Nob Hill had originally been a pilgrimage site and shrine for Native American peoples -- it was a place for them to go and pray. And there was a small pagan shrine near the spring, as they call it.
    Q: While you were researching the book, traveling coast to coast, 9/11 happened. How did that change your perspective on life?
    A: Basically, for one, a patriotic fervor overtook most Americans, as I observed. I think, in a strange sort of way, first it isolated us, but then it brought us together. I found on my third and fourth crossing of the country, people being more friendly and open.
    Q: Is driving the best way to get around North America?
Well, I'm a major bike advocate, although you can't bike to all these, it's true. So yeah, probably driving is the best way. The good thing about this book is that literally everyone in the U.S. and Canada has a sacred place within a day-trip's drive, usually within an hour.
    Q: How long does it take you to do these maps?
Each one, a couple of hours.
    Q: Are you spiritual?
When I grew up, I was an atheist. And when I did my three-year trip around the world, it pretty much culminated in Egypt. I climbed to the top of the Great Pyramid and had a very profound spiritual experience, not affiliated with any religions, past or present. I felt like I was communing with my recently departed grandfather, who I was very close to.
    From that moment on, I realized there is more to the human experience than what we see in this third-dimensional reality. That there is much more that can be perceived by the human mind if we're open to it -- by being open mentally, spiritually, physically. Taking a moment to reflect can oftentimes bring wonderful discoveries.
    Q: Why 108 destinations? Is it a symbolic number?
It really is a sacred number -- 108 revolutions around the sacred Mount Kailash (in Tibet) will guarantee your entry into nirvana. One hundred eight is the number of beads on a mala necklace worn by Buddhists and Hindus.