Sunday, July 31, 2011

Day Sixty-Five, Insomnia

I walked all of fifteen miles today but all my goals are met. Don't quit, don't die, don't collapse in a heap. Don't be defined by your blisters. Reed Point, Montana is within striking distance, just eight or nine miles away. I had not expected to do nearly as well. I was really in no mood for walking.

It was another hot day; I left my motel with two full gallons of water. It turned out I could have got by with less and refilled my jugs on the way. But you never know, do you. One likes to be safe. I could be undone by my thirst.

My stomach still pains me. I guess it's the heat. It is hard to eat anything. I still had a big breakfast; perhaps we'll call it lunch. A burger, if anyone's asking. And a coffee milkshake and I snacked a bit as I made my way down the road. Calories, Jack. That's the key, I tell you. They're all I've got to sustain me.

My toes hurt, thank you. And the heel on one foot. It takes all the fun out of walking. I cannot go back to those early days of wringing the blood from my socks. I was younger then and more optimistic. I was buoyed by positive thought. But now I have seen, I have learned, I know. Never, never again.

What pains I've got now are not nearly as bad. They have just caught me unprepared. I hate my new shoes. It takes some of the sting out of the fact that I am already seeing marked signs of wear. Curse the bare elves who invented footwear. I'd like to kick Thom McAn's ass.

Speaking of elves, I met a fellow banjo player today. He was riding a new Indian. He had his banjo strapped to the back. His true given name was Elvis. You have to wonder whether that is not a better way to see America, whether your name is Elvis or not.

Still, I see a certain attitude in most bikers out there, as if they're doing something heroic. Conquering the West on only two wheels, they have got a cowboy swagger. They don't wave or say hi; they're too cool for that. They keep their face looking grim. But the way I see it they are sitting on their fat ass all day--and yes, as often as not it is fat--on a thickly padded seat with a hundred-odd horsepower at their disposal. There are few old women in America who could not do the same thing.

"On Monday," said a real biker I met a few days back, "they go back to selling carpet."

And while I am ranting, one more thing. The next bicyclist who rides by me without so much as an acknowledging nod is going to get a stick in his spokes or a horse apple upside his head. Which is not to say I have abandoned my better nature, or given up on the Power of Positive Thought. It is just that sometimes you have to confront Evil.

I have pitched my tent in the worst of all spots. It is lumpy as all get out. I am wedged between a well-used rail line and a barbed wire fence. I don't know what I was thinking setting up here. I imagined it would be a pretty good situation. And when I learned it wasn't, rather than admitting my mistake I just plunged on. I am not the only person to so delude myself. I think it's why people get married.

It is raining and windy and the trains are quite loud. I expect to sleep rather well. I only got two hours last night. It is always that way in motels. The bed was so soft I did not dare go to sleep for fear of missing out on my comfort. Still this sleeplessness is making me cranky. Forgive me, I bid you goodnight.
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Day Sixty-Four, Timber!

I had the damnedest time getting out of my tent this morning. I'd done set it up on a slope. I woke up in one corner crumpled up in a heap with my gear piled up on my face. The outside of my tent was covered with ear wigs, a creature I know little about. They are squirmy with pinchers and the name alone does not suggest anything good. I thought I might just linger a while, hungry and lacking all strength.

It's a pain having to pack up my gear at the start of each long hot day. I have not yet learned to appreciate the ritual of it. It causes me a great deal of stress. I used to feel the same way about shaving my face and strapping on a suit and tie. It is bad enough you have to wake up and go to work without dealing with all that. Insult to injury is what I call it. Salt in my undeserved wounds.

Today it was harder. I was feeling light-headed and my hands were cramped into claws. My stomach was knotted and my muscles were weak. I was tempted to stay where I was. But the longer I waited the worse it all got. The ear wigs were bringing in troops.

So like it or not it was back on the road. It looks like I've got two new blisters. And two more coming and a bite on my ankle which should have come from a snake. I picked the almonds out of my trail mix, and walked the seven miles to town. About two-hundred yards down the road I found the fishing access I had been shooting for the night before. It had been too dark to see the sign.

I remember being somewhat unhappy in Eastern Washington because the towns were so hard to reach. You would see them on the horizon three miles away and as you walked they did not get much closer. I saw Big Timber from six miles off, a patch of trees on the river. And a sign advertising a Conoco where I hoped I might buy a Coke.

Turned out there was a restaurant, too. Country Skillet, they called themselves. I had a bland lunch that did not much agree with me and went looking for a place to be ill. That place was the Lazy J Motel. I know I cannot afford it. I had been hoping to hold out until Billings at least, but I am weakening in my old age. Twenty mile hikes on ninety-five degree days had for me then lost all appeal.

So cheers then to the Lazy J. It would make a nice name for my ranch. I took full advantage of their generous Walking Across America discount. A lot of places get real snotty about that. Here a nice woman was kind to me at a time when I needed it most.

My room has green carpet and a bear and moose theme. I could not feel more at home. There is no pool but there's a reclining chair. If I could I would sit there forever. I have owned a few chairs in my unhappy life, kitchen chairs and a desk chair or two. When life was good I had a very nice sofa but I have never owned a recliner. That kind of purchase makes a statement, one I am not ready for yet. In a recliner you are forever alone, but comfortable with the idea.

I ship out tomorrow whether I am ready or not. I have no more motel funds. But between you and me my stomach is sick and I am really in no mood for walking.


BIG TIMBER, we are informed, was named by Capt. Clark himself. Coming down the Yellowstone on his long journey home, he thought he had at last found cottonwood trees big enough to make into new canoes. They weren't big enough, it turned out. Today even they are gone; just a few scrawny cousins remain. Trees are not an outstanding feature of Big Timber, Montana.
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Friday, July 29, 2011

Day Sixty-Three, How Now

Man, I am wiped. Annihilated. Hanging on by a sliver. Today has been a long awful day. I have no one to blame but myself.

I should have started out earlier than I did. I woke up in plenty of time. But I was not looking forward to my long road ahead and was very content where I was. Under the cottonwoods on the mighty Yellowstone. There are worse places to pass a morning.

Digging through the journals of Lewis & Clark, someone or other has determined that Capt. Clark and his party stopped for dinner at or near the place I was camped. We may have peed on the very same tree. Or one of its cousins, at any rate. That's history coming alive!

Lewis was not with him. I guess they'd had a spat. I do not know all the details. One of these days I have sit down and read their journals myself. From what little I have read I know they are not nearly as dry as you might imagine. And that Captain Clark spelled like a chimp.

Back on the road, my road left the river and wandered high into the hills. The ranches got bigger and further between until there were just miles and miles of waving yellow grass. I was way up there and could see snow-covered mountains on three sides of me. I had that whole world to myself.

What I did not have was food and I was starting to weaken. It was in the mid-nineties today. I know I have bragged in the past that the heat doesn't get to me, but it sure sucked the life out of me this afternoon. I am carrying about 2000 calories of trail mix but my stomach was in a knot and I just couldn't choke it down. It is too blasted sweet; it stuck to my tongue. I guess I need something salty.


[Mmmm. Corn Nuts. My first calories of the day. In the hot you don't really feel hungry, but you can tell when you're underfed. Most days I am probably taking in five or six thousand calories, including Coca Cola. I need 'em, I tell you, I do.]

Coming down from the top I was staggering. It was hot and I was weak with hunger and yesterday someone bit me on the ankle and it hurt like hell. Not just on the surface but down to the bone. A pox upon all things buggy. I passed a middle-sized herd of cows and rather than encouraging me like they usually do, they just stood and glared. A bull trotted over to the fence and looked like he wanted to start something.

It wasn't much of a fence, either. I was a little bit scared.

[I have TWO packs of Corn Nuts; small ones, but still. God bless America!]

Eventually and with great heroism I made it back down to the river and to the almost town of Springdale, Montana. There are a good half dozen neat little homes and a very nice little school. It has all of one room--no more than two--and appears to be up and running. It has a bell and a rope and is white with green trim, like a Washington State ferry. The windows on one side have been replaced with glass bricks, perhaps as a concession to the fact I-90 is running one hundred yards to the south. Around it was a beautifully maintained lawn with some climb-on toys and a single basketball hoop. It looked like a nice place to learn.

Not for me, mind you. For me school was a joke. I'd like to sue them for wasting my time. I would have learned more by staying home and reading and watching TV.

"But it ain't all about book learnin'," you'll want to argue. "You also learn social skills."

I didn't. In fact to this very day, I have yet to master a single social skill. Not a one.

At Springdale was another Fishing Access where I managed to rinse the salt out of my shirt and soak my feet in the river. I also had a nap in the grass which is a good way to get snakebit but I was too worn out to care.

A friendly local filled my water jugs and it was onto the frontage road. Man, what a stretch of pavement. It runs dead straight for miles and miles. You can see your bleak future before you. Not a tree, not a shrub, not a welcoming bush. Just miles and miles of hot. There was rumored to be another Fishing Access--one that allows camping, no less--some ten miles up. I tried but I couldn't make it. At about mile eight it was getting quite dark and I pitched my tent by the side of the road.

Find me now wedged under a droopy tree, next to a farmer's field. I waded through some very tall grass to get here and there is an irrigation canal five feet out my back door. It is, in other words, a mosquito paradise. And I am too worn out to care.

I DID MEET later some very friendly brown cows, when I stopped by their fence to rest. They all came over, one by one, timidly like I was some sort of movie star and they wanted to ask for my autograph. They were lovely animals. I honestly believe it is wrong to eat them.

I SPENT the best part of an hour this morning trying to identify a blue thing stuck in the top of a cottonwood tree. Turned out it was a patch of sky. A fellow in Livingston told me I should look for God in life's mysteries. In this case, at least, he was right.

BULLS are powerful, dignified creatures, but they have a ridiculously dainty walk. They have almost got to be self-conscious about it. I expect that's why they're so grumpy all the time.

CORN NUTS, for our international friends, are a popular corn-based snack food, not a medical condition.
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Thursday, July 28, 2011

Day Sixty-Two, High Plains Drifter

There was a good thunder storm last night. I slept through the best of it. But I woke up into a wide wet world and started my long day sopping. It wasn't raining but that did not matter. There was moisture in the grass and the trees. My tent rolled up with a gallon of water. It weighed twice as much as it should. I was packing a number of spiders, as well. They do not weigh much at all.

I met some fisherman and asked them about their boat. I have been seeing these things all up and down the highway. They are squat and curved up on both ends and powered only by oars. They look for all the world like the dories you see on the Oregon coast--and throughout the Western world--but they are known locally as drift boats. They are the best option, I am told, for fly fishermen. The oarsman sits in the middle and two of his friends stand--stand--on either end and fish.

"The guy who owns the boat don't get to do much fishing," complained the guy who owned the boat. He still seemed to be having fun.

From there it was back to the fifties cafe for a not too spectacular breakfast. It seems the place is owned by some character who helped start Home Depot and went on to buy the Atlanta Falcons. His portfolio looks like this: Home Depot, the Atlanta Falcons, and one not too awfully seedy burger joint outside of Livingston, Montana. The key to preserving wealth, he understands, is diversification.

I then limped into Livingston and bought shoes, which involved visiting every shoe store in town at least twice. Fortunately there were not many. I am not entirely pleased with my purchase but the folks at the shops were kind. Then it was on to the city park to spread out and dry my gear. I met a not too pushy Christian and a very nice dog called Molly. She'd come up one leg short. It didn't seem to bother her, though. I pretended not to notice.

I then took in the railway museum. Livingston, it seems, used to have the biggest passenger depot between Minneapolis and Seattle. You had to jump off there to get the excursion train for Yellowstone. They've restored it beautifully. It is full of cool old train junk. You aren't alowed to touch anything, though. That sort of ruined it for me.

I didn't get out of town until well after five. Applaud me for leaving at all. But the restaurants are pricey and I guess the motels are too, owing to the flood of tourists. You can see license plates from every state but Hawaii. Hawaiians are frightened of bears.

Me, I am frightened of everything, but still somehow I persist. I have heard bravery so defined. Maybe I'm the bravest man alive. I was, nevertheless, not at all looking forward to setting out from Livingston. I'm again on a dirt road, far from anywhere, carrying a fifty pound pack. In new and untested shoes, no less, with my next town a day and a half away.

I hiked up to something called Convict Grade Road. It should take me almost to Big Timber. It was built during the Depression by, you guessed it, convicts. I am glad they are being remembered. Too often these things are named for the warden or some turd of a senator.

It is a pretty little road, the first half anyway, running right along the Yellowstone River. The convicts blasted it right out of the rock. I hope they had a nice time. I suppose they got the job because this whole area is home to "the biggest--I mean huge--meanest rattlesnakes in the world."

So said a fat man I flagged down and asked directions. "You ain't gonna sack out there, are ya?" I assured him I was and he laughed in my face and told me I was going to die. What a prick.

I was somewhat heartened, some miles later, to meet a man and his two small children. He appeared to be an intelligent fellow, a skilled outdoorsman, and a loving father. They had been up among the rocks, looking for crystals or something. I had been walking down the dead center of the road, scared out of my girlish wits.

Find me now camped at another fishing access. DAY USE ONLY says the sign. CAMPING PROHIBITED they go on to say. I am truly sorry, Montana. You are a bit gun nuts and your politics, frankly, appall me. But you're an awfully nice state and I respect your laws, even the stupid ones. But in my own defense, what harm am I doing, throwing up my tent on a flat spot by a river in the absolute middle of nowhere? I ain't hurting no one and I pick up my own trash. I usually take a token bit of other people's too.

"Leave your campsite cleaner than you found it." It is my Meaning of Life and the one thing I learned in the Boy Scouts. That and how to spot a Mormon at a glance.

I could too point out that every Montanan I meet either assumes I am camping at "fishing accesses" or suggests that I do so. This very spot was recommended to me by a half dozen people. I will but apologise for breaking the law. That's more than Gandhi ever did.

Gandhi, I'll remind you, was also a walker. He was shot three times in the chest.

Tomorrow my road leads away from the river. It is going to be hot and dry. I've got the beginnings of blisters on my two big toes. There is Beauty in symmetry.

GOD I HATE trail mix and all other portable, energy rich foods. I can't believe I used to sort of like the stuff. Blech.

TWO CARS AND a quad rolled up while I typed this. From where, I could not say. I put on my headlamp in each case to let them know I was here. I thought it was polite and probably a good idea in a state where people enjoy nothing more than shooting their guns into the woods. But every time the people panicked and zoomed away. "Someone's there!" they'd shout and then they were gone. Just who is afraid of whom.

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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Day Sixty-One, Survival

I am not camping. I am not telling ghost stories and I am not making s'mores. I have no campfire nor Coleman lantern. I am not even having fun. NO CAMPING signs, as I understand them, do not apply to me.

Not this evening, at any rate. I am just too worn out to care. My foray into the back country came close to doing me in. I wound up going some twenty miles out of my way, over some purely evil hills. Several people stopped and offered me rides. It broke my heart to say no.

Up and down and up and down then up, up, up, up, up until I was staring across a valley at some snow-covered mountains that did not tower too high above me. I was on a gravel road in the middle of nowhere, just me and the odd rancher's pickup. There's an intimacy to a country road. Almost everyone stopped to chat.

I enjoy chatting, I really do. But today I was in no mood. The longer we chatted the better their chances of luring me into their car. There are times in life when a soft seat and air-conditioning and a good old country tune can make a boy forget himself. But I said my goodbyes and plodded on. I am still not sure I did the right thing.

Stopping every fifty feet to catch my breath, I finally made it to the top of the last hill. The road then dropped off so abruptly I felt like I'd been flung into the sky. I was floating above what I think is called Paradise Valley. We'll forgive the Pioneers for the name. If they reached it the same way I did it must have been a welcome sight.

It does seem to be some very good farmland. The Yellowstone keeps it green. On one side are high mountains with higher beyond; on the other the steep scrubby hills I had just hiked over. But I was too sore and hot and unhappy to enjoy it as much as I should. I stopped at a friendly ranch for water. They offered to give me a ride.

I settled instead for some small good news. Reaching Highway Eighty-something-or-other North, Livingston, Montana was not, as I suspected, twelve miles away but only about half that. I still did not make it that far. I got as far as a 1950s-style burger restaurant--golly but there are a lot of these--on the far far edge of town and decided to stop for the night.

There was a commercial campground just next door. They wanted twenty-three bucks for the night. They were real decent about it but I can't help thinking that charging that sort of money for a 4x6 patch of ground between Winnebagos is the moral equivalent of asking me to grab my ankles and go to a happy place.

I got yer twenty-three dollars. Bend over, I'll give it to ya.

So I backtracked a half mile to "a fishing access" on the banks of the mighty Yellowstone and set up my tent here. I am not camping, if anyone asks. I wedged myself under a low tree in some high grass in an effort to avoid the question.

I am not sure how many miles today. I don't even know if it matters. I put in the effort and did not drop dead. I am calling this day a success. I knew that if I walked the extra two or three miles into Livingston, I would end up in a motel. I just can't afford that, whether or not I could do with a long hot bath.

My boots are dying and down on one side. I think it is causing me pain. It feels like someone has knuckle-punched me right in the side of the thigh. I was hoping to make these last until Billings. That is not going to happen. Livingston should have something for sale. It is a town of some 7000 people.

"We go to Bozeman for shoes," said my waitress. She had a ring in her tongue.

If I had made it to Livingston I'd be at the rodeo right now. But boots, motels and rodeo tickets are more than I can afford. Just staying fed is costing a fortune. You should see me eat these days. I had a half-pound burger for dinner and finished it and nearly all of my fries. I guess I'll be back for breakfast.

I DISCOVERED A new rodent, yet unknown to zoology. It is tiny, smaller than a chipmunk, and looks like the yeah-yeah-yeah weasel in the Foghorn Leghorn cartoons. I shared my yogurt pretzels with it and it thanked me by climbing a small tree and cursing at me for forty-five minutes. I have decided to call it the James weasel.

I REALLY LIKE cows. No other creature has been as consistently encouraging of me. Today the fence was right on the edge of my road and the came and hung their heads over. I was tempted to scritch their ears but I don't know if cows like that so I just mooed like always. Remind me, do, one of these days, to re-embrace vegetarianism.
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Day Sixty, Begoogled

I don't know how far I walked today. I don't really know where I am. I am guessing I put in my twenty miles, most of it uphill and in the wrong direction.

I did not leave Bozeman until two-thirty. It may have been closer to three. My good host--I want to call him Karl--at Jackpot East spotted me lunch, so I don't think it would hurt to give them another plug. Their burgers are tasty and their cola's ice cold. They've got liquor too if you want it. And you can gamble to your heart's delight. Stop in and spend some money.

I headed down the road carrying mountains of food and nearly two gallons of water. That put my pack at something like fifty pounds, but I was not complaining. I was a bit underrested but I felt strong. It wasn't too awfully warm. I followed my frontage road until it conked out, a few miles down the road. I climbed into the shade of a freeway bridge and sat down to check out my options.

*You have none," said my friends at Google Maps. "You've got to do the next eleven miles on I-90."

I checked and double-checked then took them at their word. I was up to the challenge. I made my way across the cattle guard and up the ramp and out onto the interstate.

It ain't all bad, the interstate. It does have a very nice shoulder. It is just that you feel so exposed out there, and the passing drivers, rather than waving at you, just look at you like you're some kind of idiot. I did pass a couple of cyclists. Neither of them said hi.

The road cut down through a very narrow gap in the mountains and went down, down. The rock cliffs were pretty but I had to keep my eyes on the traffic. You can drive fast in Montana if you want to. Most people feel they do.

After three or four miles there was an off ramp, so I stopped to bank up some shade. I didn't need it but every little bit helps. It is good to rest when you can. I checked to see what Google had to say. It seems they had changed their mind.

"We were wrong," they said. "There is a back road. You can jump on it here."

So I did. It would mean an extra couple of miles. Small price to pay, I thought. But it led me into the middle of nowhere, up some very steep hills. After some long long miles I got the joke, but by then it was too late. My pack was heavy and my muscles were unspeakably sore. I sat down on my pack and began to weep.

When down this little travelled road came Jeff and Jackie, walking their two friendly dogs. And their one mean one. I wiped away my tears before they could see them and asked them just where I was.

"Lost, horribly lost." But not beyond help. There is a way out of here. It means long extra miles and a whole lot of hills. "But at least you're not on the interstate!"

Which is a blessing, in its way. It is just that I am so blasted sore. But the country is pretty, ranches and hills and high mountains not far ahead. Western Montana has long beem a favorite place of mine. It is like parts of Washington, only bigger. But it is this area around Yellowstone that is Montana at its best. I am told Jeff Bridges and Dennis Quaid have places near here. Two of my favorite actors. For all I know I might be trespassing on their land, right this very minute. Cool!

There is some evidence of that pesky pine beetle at work again. There are lots of dead red trees. I csme across a whole mountain covered with them. It was shaggy and in the setting sun looked like an orangutan, if not Chewbacca himself.

There are a lot of houses here, too, in addition to the larger ranches. Vacation places, I guess. Not all of them appear to be lived in. But they've got gates and No Trespassing signs. I had to walk down half the hills I spent all day walking up in order to find a quiet place for my tent.

I am again in bear and rattlesnake country. Place your bets as to which gets me first.

SOMETHING HUGE and snorty rumbled past my tent. It may have been a cow. Or a buffalo. Or a really fat deer. Or a grizzly. I covered my soft underbelly with my backpack and sang to let it know I was here. I began with an original tune I call "Hello, Bear! Please Don't Eat Me!" and did "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" as an encore. The bear fled in disgust.
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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Day Fifty-Nine, Bozeman!

It was getting dark when I put up my tent. It seems I put it up on an anthill. When I climbed out this morning they were waiting for me. Two bit me on the stomach. Hard, the rotten little red and black finks. I sqooshed them and sent them flying.

I enjoyed a warm and uncomfortable hike into Belgrade, washed some clothes and ate a bad burger. Their Cokes tasted like bugspray. I had only nine and hiked on to Bozeman. It was no easy day.

The little highway I have been following for two days got narrower and faster and far more heavily travelled. There was no shoulder, none. I tired my thighs climbing up and down into ditches. I was caught in the late afternoon rush of people trying to get out of Bozeman. In cement trucks.

There were all kinds of clouds in the sky today. Yesterday there were none. There were fat clouds and wispy clouds and grey clouds and swirling clouds and a row of clouds that looked like little bunnies. Moving between them was a wall of black. There was distant thunder.

Coming into Bozeman there was a splendid rainbow. I see all kinds of them. Single and double, broken and complete. Yeah, yeah, rainbow, I say. But this one was the widest I have ever seen. I did not spend much time studying it. My eyes were on the cement trucks.

My plan was to get almost to Bozeman and set up my tent outside town. But I came over a bridge and found myself downtown, or almost, at any rate. Then the skies opened up and the thunder crashed and I checked into a motel. I had hoped to fester a couple more days before I spent that much money.


(It is tomorrow)

It is my customary practice to spent the evening exploring the town, but my legs were sore so I stayed in. I had a hot bath and a cold swim. The pool had bugs in it. I was a guest at the Rainbow Motel. The counter service is surly. If you're ever in Bozeman, give it a pass.

It was my plan to blow through Bozeman and up the high hill to Livingston, but I was surprised to discover that it is a very pretty little town. It is full of tourists from all over the world, here to visit Yellowstone. There are all sorts of trees and flowers and such, and the smell of prosperity.

I spent a pleasant hour on their sort of Rodeo Drive Main Street, talking to a man, Elijah, who like all good Elijahs had a long white beard. He is a motorcycle minister and was playing the Dobro in front of the theater. I sat and talked and listened and watched the pretty girls in their sundresses walk by.

Find me now in the Jackpot East, a Casino on the edge of town. I am free to plug in here, so long as I encourage you all to stop in. Jackpot East, for all your burger and gambling needs.

It is mid-afternoon and I am just now leaving town. It is thirty-odd miles to Livingston.
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Sunday, July 24, 2011

Day Fifty-Eight, Capsicum

When I set off on this jouney, many years ago, it was with a gnawing fear. I am not the adventuresome type. I am the greatest physical coward you've ever seen or heard about and I have all the emotional stability of a thirteen-year-old girl. I like my comforts. I like to sleep in. I get nervous meeting new people. I am physically weak. I take long showers. I don't like using strange toilets.

"Where do you poop?" I would ask myself, over and over again. You may have noticed, and I do apologise, that poop has been a central theme of these reports. I wish I could have come up with something more philosophical; I bet every other walker has. But it is a real concern I tell you. Having to poop at the wrong time and place could ruin this adventure for me. It could ruin a good pair of socks.

The walking, believe it or don't, is the easy part. I believe anyone could do it. Anyone. The hard part is keeping clean and fed and watered and sleeping in a stinky old tent. It is finding places to sit down or camp or recharge your silly computer. It is staying warm and keeping cool and finding good places to poop.

Today I woke up in a potato field on the edge of an interstate highway. I had, shall we say, an upset stomach. Explosively upset, if you get my meaning. They'd have to call in Red Adair. Potato fields don't offer much cover. And packing up my tent involves a great deal of squatting and bending over, a lot of straining, a lot of stress. That I made it out alive and with my dignity more or less intact is a triumph of ingenuity and muscle control.

I duckwalked back up to the truckstop where I had had my evening meal. "Go nuts on the jalapeños," I told the young man who was kindly making my sandwich. He was too glad to oblige. I couldn't let him see me picking them off after I had asked for them, and when I ate the other half later in my tent, I didn't want loose jalapeños floating all over hell so I ate them then too. It is perhaps worth noting that I had had a jalapeño burger for breakfast at the Bunkhouse Saloon.

I have outlined the advantages offered by taverns, free Cokes, people to talk to and such. The food is cheap but I think it is killing me, one poor dead cow at a time. It sure worked against me this time it did. It could have been a disaster.

I had a fast food breakfast at a sit-down restaurant price at Wheat Montana, a tourist trap of sorts. I've been passing their signs for three days. The food was bland and coldish but the place was packed. Their hook is, get this, they make Bread out of Wheat. What will they come up with next?

It failed to settle my stomach, at any rate, and I duckwalked the four miles into Three Forks, half intending to get a motel. I know I can't afford it and I know Winter is coming soon, but I was feeling poorly. I went instead to a saloon and had thirty-seven Cokes for a dollar and a modest tip, after which I felt a little better.

From there I went to the town museum. I kick myself every time I pass one of these places but I never seem to be there at the right time of day. But I am afraid I was not feeling well enough to really take it all in. I did get to speak with the couple who run the place, so that was nice. I told them I was Walking Across America to Meet Girls and they seemed to think that was a pretty good idea. They told me my special someone was out there somewhere.

Funny thing is, I have always believed that, as well. But then I've been wrong about lots of things.

I did learn about this fellow called Colter who had been this way as part of the Lewis and Clark expedition and came back a few years later to hunt beavers. Well it seems the Indians--Blackfeet, I think they were--were pissed off about something or other so they murdered his friend and then took all his clothes and set him running. I guess the idea was to have some fun hunting him down.

Well he showed them. He ran like a bunny, bare-assed naked, all the way to the nearest fort, two-hundred miles away. Took him a week. I don't know what sort of reception he got there. They probably kidded him some. Anyway, he went on to discover Yellowstone and is for me a role model.

Three Forks is a nice little town, recovering from a short bout with land speculation. On the way out of town I passed a beautiful wooden hotel. You don't see those everywhere. I think they're illegal.

I can't say I ever fully recovered, but I did begin walking in earnest. I found a road other than I-90 and started clicking off the miles to Bozeman. Good Jimminy, it was warm. Mid-nineties, I guess, but on black asphalt you can feel it up through your shoes. There weren't any trees or sources of shade for ten grueling miles.

It was pretty, though. I like these hills and it was nice to be off of the highway. There was no shoulder but traffic was light. It really could have been worse. It was a fairly awfull uphill day but it was as nothing compared to the miseries I suffered in the first few weeks of this adventure. What was I thinking, I want to know, when I was young and foolish.

I made it as far as Manhattan, Montana where I had a jalapeño burger in a saloon. I am not sure what I was thinking. Just exhausted, I guess.

There was the kind offer of a campsite but I was determined to make it a few more miles up the road. There was the promise of another "fishing access." I didn't make it; it got dark. I settled into a place just as secure, home to a million mosquitos. I coated myself in nerve toxin, waded in and set up my tent.

Eighteen miles today. It could have been much worse.

I MET A BIKINI GIRL from Tennessee. I really liked how she talked. And I hear they've got some fine banjoists. I may be headed that way.

I THINK I may be developing a new blister. Wait and see, wait and see.

IT IS COLD and I could do with a Tums. Goodnight.
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Saturday, July 23, 2011

Day Fifty-Seven, Shhhh!

It turned out I was sleeping next to a boat ramp on the mighty Missouri River. These facilities are known locally as "fishing accesses" and have proven to be fine places to camp. This one, however, is very well used. There aren't so many rivers to choose from.

It is my custom of a morning to stuff my thermal underwear and sleeping bag into my pack sit cross-legged on my thin little air mattress. Naked. While I contemplate the day ahead. Sometimes my mind wanders; sometimes I wonder what in life brought me to this.

These meditations were cut short this morning with the arrival of a carload of librarians with kayaks strapped to their roof. Stripped of their trappings of power, wearing life jackets and spray skirts, the really weren't all that intimidating. Once I got my pants on I was happy to see them.

You see, something had been bothering me all day yesterday. Why, I wondered, is the Missouri flowing northwest when all the laws of decency and good sense suggest it should be moving southwest? And who better than a bevy of kayaking librarians to clear it up.

I had some trouble phrasing my question but they did not disappoint. It seems, I am informed, that until the last ice age, the Missouri flowed north and eventually east and emptied into the St. Lawrence River. But then something happened and it changed its mind and now it flows into the Mississippi. But it takes a convoluted path to get there, taking in all manner of Dakotas and, for all I know, parts of Canada.

I really ought to study a map one of these days. I rarely have more than tbe vaguest idea where I am. And which mountain is which and which river and which town and where the hell I am going. Today I walked eighteen of twenty miles straight uphill, which made me wonder if crossing the continental divide is really all it's cracked up to be.

I had a light breakfast at the Bunkhouse Saloon and loitered while I charged my computer. I had seventeen Cokes and watched Fox News. I was not on the road until noon. The first thing I saw turning right out the door was a row of jaggedy mountains. They were tall and unfriendly and covered with snow and stretched all the way across the horizon.

It was 99 degrees when I crossed the Rockies, that's like sixty-five to our metric friends. Today was a balmy eighty-nine. But I had just seen a TV report about sunstroke and was sure I had all the symptoms. I was sweating, that much is certain. I was sure I was going to die.

Or at the very least be squooshed by a car. The road I was on had no shoulder. And one shady billboard and one clump of trees on the whole long uphill run. There were no towns nor much of anything. I put down my head and walked.

It was pretty in its Central Montana way. I do like those Sharpei hills. And the vast--vast--and very green fields of what I think now are potatoes. They have little white flowers or little purple flowers. Sometimes I'll see one escaped from its pen and growing on the side of the road and I want to yank it up to see if it is a potato but that seems kind of mean so I don't.

It wasn't too hot. My knees were clicking but I enjoyex a pretty good walk. When I at last arrived at the I-90 junction I thought I'd put in a couple more miles but it turned out it was 8:30 so I ate half a Subway sandwich, hiked a quarter mile down a frontage road and pitched my tent. In a high wind on the distant edge of what might be a potato field.

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Day Fifty-Six, Damn the Wind

It is thundering and lightninging. How very very brave I am. Anyone else would be scared about now. Not me, I tell you! Ha Ha!

I walked twenty-five miles today. We'll call that a very good day. I may have walked further early on in this trip, but I was young then and didn't know any better. I thought it was a princely effort. I should get a prize.

I got a late start but that worked in my favor. I found an outlet on the back of the Bull Something-or-Other Saloon, the finest bar in Winston, Montana, where I was honored to put up my tent. I had my computer all recharged before I even set out on the road.

The very pioneers did not suffer as I do. It is this need to recharge my computer which has conditioned me to take these three and four hour breaks, sipping soda and bullshitting with rednecks. Which I often find so exhausting I have to nap under a tree.

But today I was troubled by no such excuses. I just put my head down and walked. The wind was blowing--I looked it up--at twenty-five miles an hour. For our international friends, that is like 150 kilometers per hour. Enough to knock you around, I tell you. It was mostly at my back. But every now and then, just to keep me on my toes, it would hit me at a weird angle and send me tumbling this way or that, depending on its whim.

And it was most unkind to my hat.

I do hope I mentioned that this forty or fifty mile stretch of road I am on is in the process of being repaved. Or widened. Or rebuilt altogether. It is something to do with asphalt. And tar. And pilot cars and long delays and smoke-belching steam rollers. The whole stretch of road, I swear to golly. It is going to be really nice one day.

For the first several miles I was able to miss all that excitement and walk on a little farm road, some yards off to the side. It started as just couple of ruts and grew more convincing with each passing mile. I had it almost entirely to myself.

Walking on rocks is tiring. You have to watch where you put your feet. Your ankles are always making little adjustments. It slows you down a bit. But it was safe and peaceful; I inhaled the tar and tried to let my thoughts wander.

The wind did make that difficult and I was not feeling quite up to form. I was sleepy and my stomach was tight and I was feeling feverish about the temples. A hangover, some people would call it. Some people don't understand.

I was pleased to discover that, not two miles down the road from the Bull Something-or-Other Saloon in Winston, Montana, there is a lake. It is called Something-or-Other Ferry and is apparently just teeming with walleye, a largish but not particularly endearing fish. Men come with their boats from miles around. Businesses of all sorts sell bait.

But today the fishermen stayed on shore. It was too windy out there. There were whitecaps and what I heard one disappointed gentleman refer to as "swells." But it did give me something to look at when no road graders were passing by. It is an ugly lake, as lakes go. And it is infested with fish.

It is intersting to note that this Something-or-Other Ferry lake is really just a wide spot in the Missouri River. That's right, sports fans, the Missouri River. The Wide Missouri. The Big Muddy. I am practically in St. Louis.

It does seem to be flowing the wrong way. Maybe it reverses direction somewhere downstream. Or upstream, rather. I don't know. I don't know very much about rivers. I like them, though. I think rivers are neat.

Eventually I made my way to Townsend, a proper town of some one-thousand people. From there I moved out of ranchland and into agriculture again. I don't know what they are growing but it is about fourteen inches high and it is very green. It is served by great, self-motivated irrigation machines, guided, I swear, from space.

The hills are pretty. They are high and look sandy, but I think it's really yellow grass. They are wrinkly, like a Sharpei dog, and in these wrinkles, or so I am told, are tons and tons of yet undiscovered gold. In the case of the Sharpei you would be lucky to find a tick.

The road, though, had virtually no shoulder and traffic was moving fast. I was delighted when I reached a very long stretch where I had the in-progress lanes all to myself. It was very rough and the soil was too soft and I had to weave my way around heavy equipment, idled for the evening. But it was safe.

The sky, though, turned black and threatened all manner of mischief. Lightning was shooting back and foth, but I never saw it touch down. But I could see sunshine around all the edges and eventually it passed me by. And then I saw a rainbow, then a double rainbow. Then it started to rain. I was reminded of why it is called a rainbow and not a sunny-and-mild-bow.

But I gutted it out and kept walking, all the way to Totson, Montana, where you now find me camped. I had a light dinner at the Bunkhouse Saloon. It was like being on Jerry Springer.

I don't expect a long day tomorrow. My knees are starting to click. And it is well after one and I have not yet lowered my careworn head to my pillow. I hear cats and coyotes. There's thunder and rain. And it is unbelievably cold. And a hillbilly couple some acres away, seems to be having a fight.

I set up my tent in the pitch dark and have no clear idea where I have camped. I wouldn't be surprised to wake up tomorrow and find myself in a graveyard, or a school playground. It is, in a word, creepy.


NOTE TO SELF: A reminder--use your head, now--not to talk politics until you get to a blue state. Or was it a red state? Whichever the good one is. Telling people you are a Bolshevik is only funny to you.

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Friday, July 22, 2011

Day Fifty-Five, Winston!

Find me now in sunny Winston, Montana, camped behind the Bull Something-or-Other Saloon. They have been good to me here and you would be forgiven for thinking I should have made a better effort to learn the name of the place. But there is only one saloon in Winston, MT. That is where you want to spend your money. As much as you can plus a little bit more. Drink yourself six ways to goofy.

Winston is an even twenty miles from Helena. It is worth noting that I am drunk off my ass. Drunker, perhaps, that is the nature of things. In for a penny and a pound.

I have planned my stop at the Bull Something-or-Other Saloon for a good week now. It is all part of my pub crawl across Montana. Typically I enjoy a burger in these places and two or three dozen Cokes. When they let me camp I buy a token beer of thanks. No more, of course, do understand. Liquor, they say, is a poison.

But the first beer I had was awfully good and my bartender was a flower. I could not bear to break her heart by failing to order a second. And by that time, you see, I got to talking to folks, and damned if they didn't l start buying me more beers. And the more I drank, the more I talked, and the more they conspired to see just how drunk I could get.

About this drunk, at final reckoning. I have been drunker, I swear. But eight or ten pints are not to be scoffed at, on either side of the Continental Divide. It took me a while to put up my tent, and I got the rain fly on backwards.

Which means the zippers don't line up. Which makes it hard to climb in. And once you're in, you are in forever.

I have been worse places, I swear to God. I am camped on a very nice lawn. The bar owner's father sees to that. He is a mad man with a mower.

I did not leave Helena until close to noon. My motel had a very generous check-out time. I would have left sooner but I got sucked into this cable show called Project Runway in which aspiring young fashion designers compete against each other for fabulous prizes. But the judges aren't all snotty like on other reality shows, and I learned a few things, as well. I confess that until now, those few fashion shows I have seen have been more about that chance glimpse of boob than the fashion itself. There's more to it than you'd guess.

Back on the road I was fighting strong. I am unstoppable these days. I hiked down the road to East Helena, where I enjoyed a hearty lunch. At a saloon, of course, though I didn't drink, though my bartender, again, was a flower. She looked like Forrest Gump's old ma, or Gidget, or somewhere in between.

From there it was a flat fifteen mile hike to Winston, uphill every step of the way. I had to climb down into a valley to get to Helena and today was my chance to break free. Fifteen miles across dry dusty plains. In truth, I enjoyed the whole thing. Walking again is fun for me. I am not sure what I did wrong.

The land here is all quite new to me. The hills have a brand new look. The golf course green grass of days past is replaced by something yellow and brittle. The pine trees remain and are thicker perhaps. The hills may be just a bit taller. It wasn't too hot and I felt good. It was a rather nice stroll.

Hell of a drive, though; I swear to golly. There was roadwork the entire way. The cars were backed up in mile long queues while I walked idly by. It was awkward, in fact, as every driver, sorely wanting amusement, was compelled to say hi to me and, after a while, it surprised me too, I was running short of witty repartee.

A greater challenge was getting out of Helena. I am learning to dislike these metropoli. Traffic is nuts and folks lack the insight to cope with pedestrians. And there are these weird cab-forward, rear-engined, inside-out, prehistoric-looking concrete trucks zooming all over hell. They drive like absolute demons.

I felt a little resentful at having to walk uphill all day. This is the downward half of my journey. But my legs were strong and I really don't mind banking a little altitude. In a perfect world I would be able to pull it out and use it whenever I choose.

Long story short, it was a good day. Montana is my oyster.

CHEERS to Larry and his spectacularly beautiful bride. I have never seen better hair on a woman. Like Lady Freaking Godiva, I swear. One in a long line of flowers.

CHEERS TOO to Derek and Dawny, as fine a couple as it has been my pleasure to meet. And to my friends the hunters and fishers and golfers and fearless infantrymen.

AND TO the one nameless soul who renamed the town, "Winston--by God!--Montana!"

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Thursday, July 21, 2011

Days Fifty-Three and Fifty-Four, Housekeeping

The unused pastureland on which I set up my tent turned out to be used pastureland. When I woke up it was full of cowboys. They waved at me and were most hospitable but I figured it was only a matter of time before the cows turned up and were on me like a swarm of admirers. I packed up and hiked to Helena.

Where I have been for two days, tending my back and cleaning up all my gear. And neglecting my correspondence. Thank you for your kind patience.
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Day Fifty-Two, Ev'ry Mountain

I eased up and over the Rocky Mountains. It was a very nice day. I was not eaten by badger nor bear, nor much pestered by mosquitos. The sun was hot but I didn't mind. It may just have warmed my cockles.

Hot cockles or not, I got a late start. I was in every mood to walk. But for whatever reason I could not straighten up. My spine had fused in my sleep.

It is a little-known danger of outdoor life. It involves a whole lot of crouching. You are always bending over to do this or that. I've got to tell you it's wearying. When I stop to rest I sit on my pack with my knees drawn up to my chest. At night I am huddled up in my tent, typing these missives to you. My back decided to stage a protest. It would have its demands heard.

There are all sorts of things you can accomplish, folded in half at the waist. I took down my tent and prepared my pack. I washed my hair in the river. I took several pills--at least half were orange--and made vigorous application of every herbal remedy I had at my disposal. But I still couldn't move. I resigned myself to dying, alone in the wilderness, and sat down to watch the trains.

I wrenched myself upright by early afternoon and set off on my jolly walk. My back, by then, felt just lovely. I was, in fact, in perfect health as I made my way up the hill. I am most grateful to the fellows who gave me this route. I liked crossing the Rockies on an unused dirt road. It made me feel like a hobbit.

I came across Priest Pass, which I am told is the easiest path across the Rockies this side of Panama. That is not to say it was an easy climb. I was in good shape but I made frequent stops in order to catch my breath. And I rather wanted to draw it out, this thing I have so been dreading. It was pretty up there and I had a whole world entirely to myself.

There was uphill walking but there was not any snow. There were meadows and wildflowers. Blue ones and orange ones and little pink ones that grew in clusters like bells. And not a skeeter in sight and surely the snakes don't slither up more than a mile. I crossed the continent at seven-thousand feet. A reptile would explode.

It was a pleasant surprise to find this paradise at the Top of the World. I felt like I was escaping into Switzerland. I did what Julie Andrews would do. I took off all my clothes and had a nap in the grass.

Now you might think this nudity thing is getting out of control with me, but I think it is a funtion of altitude. I have not been inclined to take off my clothes since I came down off of the mountain. I may be over it all for good. I may be a little suburned.

I was not too tired climbing up. I had a strange enthusiasm. Not enough water and even less food but plenty of energy. I was, do forgive me, excited and pleased and happy to be where I was. It has been more than ten years since I felt as good.

Maybe twenty.

I never got above the treeline. A quarter of the trees up there are dead, killed off by some kind of beetle. They are still pretty; they turn a nice red, but the locals are not at all happy. This little bug is threatening to kill every tree in the state. There is some debate over how to meet the threat. The timber companies want to log Montana flat and start over. The environmentalists want turn the forests into beetle sanctuaries. I have kept out of it.

From the top of the hill I could see snow-covered peaks all around and a small sign announced the top of Priest Pass. I had planned a photograph but it was shotgunned beyond recognition. I paused only briefly for two quick pees and then started walking downhill.

Do remember that I have been walking uphill since Wenatchee. I have a lot of altitude banked. The road went down, down, down. It was steep enough that I did not entirely trust the grip of my boots. But it kept going down, down, down and down for miles.

I was passed by a Forest Service truck. They were up there looking after something or other. The driver looked like a Forest Service guy and kindly gave me some water. When I looked in his truck, though, I was surprised to see it was stuffed to the gunwales with beautiful girls. I swear to God. It was like a clown car. Beautiful girl after beautiful girl, all jumbled in all together. You couldn't tell where one beautiful girl ended and the next beautiful girl began. I want to party with the Forest Service. Those cats have hidden depths.

I could not help but recall that I had only just rededicated my walk as a Walk to Meet Girls and was delighted to see my federal government conspiring to deliver them by the truckload. Earlier I had been passed by two girls on a little four-wheeled offroad thingamajobber. They were splattered with mud and one wore a bikini. But as pleased as I was to see them, I quickly dismissed them as a hallucination.

And I kept walking down, down, down; further down than I thought was possible. After miles the road got harder and wider and I started seeing houses and such. Eventually I rejoined highway 12 at a wide spot where westbound cars stop to put on their chains (when required).

I still had long miles to get to Helena. I kept walking down, down, down, expecting to find it around each curve. But it never turned up and it was getting dark. I decided to pitch my tent.

I climbed a fence into some unused pasture land and camped next to a river. It was a glorious day.
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Monday, July 18, 2011

Day Fifty-One, Nudism

I had what we'll call a wonderful day, thank-you so much for asking. I did get a rather late start. A series of unhappy accidents meant I couldn't leave my tent.

I had been very pleased with my campsite. It had taken a while to find. I had been up and down both sides of an overpass and too close to a railroad bridge. I had been promised I would find there luxury camping and all I could find were pricker bushes.

But damned if right there in the middle of these pricker bushes weren't a sort of tunnel and a tent-sized space. It was completely covered over by vines. I'd be invisible to anyone six feet away. Hobo!

It was, however, a bit skeetery in there and the trains were running a lot closer to my pillow than I had at first thought. And the place was just swimming with great beastly fowl. One of them pooped on my tent. They spent the whole evening rustling about, trying to sound like grizzlies.

I woke up early, maybe seven or so, when a freight train whizzed by my left ear. Startled me, I tell you. Especially as it came at just that point in my nightmare where I was pretty sure I was going to die anyway. Sat me right up in bed.

So quickly, in fact, that I believe I may have torqued something. The earth in my grotto was lumpy. I had a rock or something jammed against my spine all night. Only when I took my tent down did I see I had set it up over a stump. A big one. I swear to golly.

Last night I dined on cranberry walnut oatmeal cookies. I had just three which left six in the box. I meant to have them for breakfast. But at some point in the evening, perhaps agitated by passing trains, I rolled over them and smashed them into a billion pieces.

Understand that I only chose cranberry walnut oatmeal cookies because I thought they'd be sort of chewy, not crumbly at all. But they were crumbly. You see what I'm up against. What's worse, my little rabbit hole let in very little sunlight so my tent was soggy with condensation and yesterday's best efforts. And those cookies melted into an insidious paste and got over everything. I had one little patch to balance on, on what I would later learn was the high side of the stump.

Everything else was either gritty or sticky with paste. I couldn't step outside because that is what the skeeterbugs wanted me to do. So I sat holding my knees and contemplating God's mysteries.

I don't remember how I finally got going. I couldn't tell you what time. I have lost my long-broken watch an my unbreakable pocket comb. It was green. I used it for everything. Picking my teeth, scratching my back, poking at this or that. And to groom every square inch of my body and check myself for parasites.

The watch was rather useful, as well. I used it to tell the time. Maybe I am better off without it. It does tell me what time to camp. But mostly it just hurts my feelings. I don't think I will soon replace it.

I took off walking, eager and uphill. Two miles up the road I passed the campsite everyone had been at such pains to describe to me. It would have been lovely. It was one of those fishing access places on what I believe is called the Little Blackfoot river. But I could be wrong.

[A train as just passed, not much further away than last night. It is not the first since I set up here, but I was listening to the radio and very much engaged in my correspondence with you. It scared the ever-loving crap out of me.]

This highway twelve, I think it is called, is a pretty road. I love the hills around here. They are covered with grass and pines. From a distance the grass looks very soft and carefully groomed. Like a golf course. And while these are technically those very Rocky Mountains which have caused me such fear and slowed my step these many weeks, they are gently curved and almost beg to be climbed.

I regret I do not have much capacity to post photos, but I urge you to google the various place names I mention. Some better photographer than I can make it real to you. Highway Twelve between Garrison and Helena, Montana. Look it up. Thank you.

I hiked eight miles up the road to the Avon Cafe of Avon, Montana where an over-worked waitress brought me thirty-nine Cokes and four glasses of water. And a passable burger and some spectacularly greasy fries, all of which I ate right up.

I also had a slab of coconut cream pie. You know, when I planned this trip, I was sure I'd be eating a lot more coconut cream pie. Most places, though, don't even have pie these days. What is happening to America! And when I have found coconut cream pie, it hasn't been that good. Today's entry is better described as a coconut meringue pie.

Leaving Avon I continued uphill towards Elliston, Montana. I thought Ellison was sixteen miles away. I was going to stop short and breakfast there tomorrow. Turned out it was only seven or eight miles away. I had a fishburger at the Lawdog Saloon.

More to be polite than anything. I needed to recharge my computer. But it was awfully good and I gobbled it up. I chose fish deliberately. I am feeling more and more guilty about my burger habit. The cows, you see, are great friends of mine and I am having trouble meeting their gaze.

I have no great love of chickens. I don't think they pack the same calories but I am pretty sure I can make that up with fried potatoes.

I should mention that on my way into Avon, when I was still convinced the town was yet miles away, I took a regularly scheduled break and sat down on my pack in a rare bit of shade. I was sitting in tall grass and the people in passing cars probably thought I was taking a dump.

But I was just sitting there. I wasn't tired or anything. I felt great. Ninety-degree weather doesn't really bother me. I just have to drink a bit more. But somehow sitting there on my pack I managed to injure my spine. I couldn't stand up.

I didn't want to lie in the grass because I would be covered in slithering snakes. I further injured myself digging out two aspirin and got to my feet. There was no chance of hoisting my pack until the pills kicked in so I had to stand there like a moron for twenty miles.

And it turned out the Lawdog was just half a mile away. I took two more pills and hoped for the best. Turned out OK, let's hope. I had a nice time talking to the saloon patrons. There were pretty girls and a soldier and a railroad man and an ex-convict. And the usual assortment of lesbians.

I always like talking to railroad men. I am just nutty for trains. He gave me the same story about it being an easy job but he had a grip like a vise. I guess they are extra busy now because a lot of other rail lines are underwater. He zooms around in a truck and does maintenance on the track. It sounds like a neat job. For a single guy. You don't get home much.

He told me about this shortcut around the easiest path over the Rockies. So guess what! I am back country. Back country, bear country. Miles from the nearest paved road. I've gone done it; I have gone Daniel Boone. I am back to my Animal Nature.

I am going to find my own path up and over. I reckon the summit is about five or six miles away. If it hadn't been getting dark I would have liked to camp up there. I would have peed twice, once in the blue Pacific and once in the Gulf of Mexico. I'll do that tomorrow if I remember.

I am a little nervous about this wilderness path. I have to get to Helena in one day and, while I believe this way is easier, I do not know how many miles it adds. Plus there is the whole bear thing. Still, I am very happy here.

I am still beside the railroad but we are on opposite banks of a narrow little river. The water ain't too, too cold; I had a bath and then stood naked in God's nature. I was out there for hours. I had to duck behind my tent when the trains went by, but otherwise I have miles of wilderness all to myself. There were no skeeters to speak of. I stayed until it got dark.

There are signs of someone else having camped where I am now. I was hoping the cumulative people stink would keep the bears away. I don't think they're too fond of trains either. I'll probably be OK.

Still, while I was standing around naked, a badgery creature slid across the water and up the steep bank. He glared briefly at me from a dozen feet away before disappearing high up the hill. He was big and muscular and low to the ground. He had an angry white face. I think he saw I was no one to be trifled with. Being naked saved my life.

It is coming up on two o'clock. I really do not want to sleep. I am too happy, too perfectly content. These moments do not last.

CHEERS to the businessman I met, a cat by the name of Bizzarro. He had me figured at glance. Cheers too to T-Brett and Jim, both of whom made a special effort to say hi to me on the road.

THANK-YOU much for my official Lawdog Saloon hunting cap. It is camouflaged and so at cross purposes to my glow-in-the-dark traffic safety hat, but it is a fine cap and I shall wear it with pride.

IT HAS OCCURRED to me that mine is a romantic nature and that, while I enjoy the freedom that goes with being thoroughly unloved, I really ought to make more effort. Some girl, somewhere, is missing out on some world-class, grade-A bullshit.

So why, you ask, am I Walking Across America? For a while there it was in support of Cannabis Reform. Then it was for World Peace. Now it is to meet girls. I am Walking to Meet Girls.
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Saturday, July 16, 2011

Day Fifty, Beefs

It is one-thirty on a warm afternoon. I still haven't walked a step. And I don't intend to, at least not for a while. The Ranch House opens at four PM and I am going to have me a burger. I am now belly up to a still closed bar, watching TV and drinking Coca Cola. T-Brett in outside mowing the lawn. My offer of help was refused.

It ain't entirely about being lazy, this additional day off. The towns ahead are spaced such that a half day is what I need right here. It'll put me in a good spot the following day to begin my assault on the mountain. This road to Helena is, I am told, the easiest path through the Rockies there is. That is just fine with me. Six short miles from bottom to top, and then I have conquered America.

Things may get a little bleak after that. Eastern Montana is for all intents another Dakota. There are going to be a lot of long stretches between towns and I am not sure how to manage them. I'll figure it out. I am hoping my Victory Over the Rockies will sufficiently buoy me, body and spirit.

Or I'll just limp along like I've been doing. My feet are in good shape but my Spokane boots are already wearing out. I am hoping to switch back to running shoes once I get to the Middle West. They're a lot cheaper. I guess I got weeks to puzzle it out, especially at the rate I am going.

I am self-conscious about my rate of progress. I ought to be in Nebraska by now. But it's not my fault I keep meeting nice people. Or that I am so easily tired. Or that I like to sleep in. Or that I enjoy staring into rivers for long hours. Or that I am gluttonous and lazy. Or that I am in way over my head.


Find me now later in the evening, camped in the woods by a river. I am closer still to the railroad tracks and I am not that far from the highway. Yet I am all but invisible in a dense thicket, which turned out to be hollow in the middle. I found it when I was looking for a place to poop. I had my tent set up elsewhere but I carried it over here. I love places like this. They give me a hobo pride.

I pooped elsewhere, should it interest you. Thank-you for your concern. There were a good many mosquitos about. That's all I've got to say about that.

I left the Ranch House at five PM. You might say I got a late start. But it is all according to my own careful plans. There are wheels within wheels, I tell you. I walked seven or eight miles and set up my tent. I call it a victory.

I have demonstrated some tendency to grow comfortable in a place and just sort of stay there, ticking off the days until winter. Today I pried myself loose and left. That, my dear friends, is heroic.

I climbed over the barbed wire fence and onto I-90, which took me sharply uphill and straight into a thunderstorm. Yet onward I went. I saw a sliver of blue sky between the hills in front of me which gave me some hope. The storm did pass ovet but it was followed by two more just like it.

It was nevertheless a very pleasant walk. I have left the interstate and am now on Highway 12, pointed at Helena. I am glad to be back in the country. Those superhighways are no joy to walk on. They make a fellow feel small. And folks drive so fast and there are no trees to rest under and you are hemmed in the time by barbed wire.

These fences, I gather, are not so much to keep hobos off the freeway but to prevent cattle from strolling on. There are cattle guards too at the bottom of every ramp. I guess we are in "free range country" which means that cows can wander sround wherever they choose.

I have lived in India so this is not entirely foreign to me. It nonetheless causes me some concern. You see, cattle love me. I can't pass any two of them without hearing an encoraging moo and seeing their ears waggle in friendship. As often as not they will follow me along the fence and we'll exchange moos back and forth.

"Moo," I will tell them and for whatever reason I have adopted a Spicolian intonation, the sort a Californian uses to draw out words like "dude" and "cool."

"Moo," the cows say back to me, using the local accent. Sometimes I address them in Japanese. They answer just the same.

So life is good and I am moving forward. One little step at a time. And though I may seem like the last person to succeed at this sort of adventure, I may just surprise you all.

I HAD WANTED washboard abdominal muscles like those fellows you see on TV, but I have more or less given up on that. I do think this constant exposure to wind and weather has been good for me. I am starting to look more and more like Robert Redford, late career.
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Friday, July 15, 2011

Day Forty-Nine, Lesbianism

"Are you a cowboy, I mean a real cowboy? You don't just dress like that, do you?"

He looked every bit like a cowboy. He had the hat and the vest and the handle bar moustache. He was just a little bow-legged. His boots weren't all shiny and his eyes were lined. He was happy to answer my question.

"No, sir. I am a lesbian."

I knew he was going to say that. Just as I had known he was a real cowboy. The first few cowboys I met I was fascinated. I wanted to learn all about their trade. I still have a few questions. But mostly I just like having these wiry, weathered ol' cowpunchers look me in the eye and with the barest hint of a smile, tell me they are lesbians.

I should explain that this comes from an old joke, seemingly very popular with cowboys. In it an old cowboy is asked how one went about becoming a cowboy and he explains that from earliest boyhood he had had an affinity with horses and a burning desire to rope dogies and ride the range. A lesbian is then asked how she got started and she explains that, likewise, from the earliest flower of girlhood, she had been [THIS PART OF THE JOKE IS OFTEN DRAWN OUT IN EXQUISITE DETAIL] very fond of women. The cowboy then, finding no fault with anything she has said, announces that, in addition to being a cowboy, he is also a lesbian.

So now every cowboy in America thinks he is a lesbian. And following their reasoning, so am I. A really militant one. Yee haw.

I am something of a humorist myself and can't help thinking that someone ought to write these fellows a new joke. I rather enjoy the old one, but they might appreciate the variety. Maybe we can get Tom Bodett or someone. I know he ain't a real cowboy but he's close enough. It would be a real service.

I walked twenty miles, more or less on the button. My day passed effortlessly. It was how I thought Walking Across America would be, before I knew any better. A twenty-mile stroll; I stopped a few times. I took the odd break here and there. But mostly I just trundled along. The mile markers were flying by.

It is my fondest hope that I will reach a point where all my days are like this. I could have gone anothet ten miles. I was carrying almost two gallons of water and a bunch of food. I barely noticed the weight.

Part of it was that it wasn't hot. It may have been eighty or so. I don't notice ninety right away but it does seem to tire me out. Likewise with hills. Today's road was comparatively flat. And I think the rest might have done me some good, but I don't think that's all of it. There is something mysterious happening here. Some days I just feel stronger.

I walked about twelve miles on a lovely frontage road, directly beside the freeway. There was almost no traffic and there were a couple of overpasses to rest under. There's not a lot of shade in this part of the state. They're a nice place to pass an hour.

When my frontage road veered inexplicably off into the hills, I climbed over a barbed wire fence and out onto the freeway. It weren't so bad; it was just a few miles. Traffic was not too too heavy. And the hills are pretty and the sky was blue. The promised thunderstorm never arrived.

I stopped when I got to the Ranch House, a saloon just outside of Garrison, Montana. It had been recommended to me by Jim, a publican in Drummond. He had called ahead; they were waiting for me. "You're right on tme," they said.

They set me up with a mushroom burger and an ice cold pint. They couldn't have treated me better. I had a chance to talk to a Bret, T. Brett to his friends, who owns the place. He earns his money as a bigtime camera technician in Hollywood and spends it as a Saloon keeper in Montana.

He is also an avid cyclist so I have to watch my over-generalisations there. But I would like to state, for the record, that almost none of those assholes ever say hi to me.

But T-Brett is one of the good ones and he topped off his warm hospitality with a great campsite, just behind his saloon. It is an under-utilised campground. Gosh, it's a pretty spot. I am six feet from a river with the hills all around. I set up my tent on a lawn. I hear the thunder and I hope it rains. I am safe and warm and content.

CHEERS TOO to Jim in Drummond, of the Rough Something-or-Other saloon. Not only did he turn me on to this place, he more or less planned my route through Montana. And he marked every saloon on my route with an X. This man really knows his state.

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Day Forty-Eight, Stalled

I am still holed up in Drummond, Montana. Don't be ashamed of me. I just didn't have the strength to go on. It could happen to anyone.

Physically I ain't too bad off. I ain't had a blister for days. My thighs are a bit knotted from that last uphill run, but I've grown accustomed to that. I am a deep golden brown and do not get sunburned. My stomach is just a bit achy. I am somewhat poopy but I'll overcome. It is the poopiness which defines me.

I would like to take a moment to call out the manufacturers of something called "granola". Good God, what were they thinking? It makes you poopy, that's what it does, and they market this poison to backpackers? Has American business grown so cynical that it can just make people poopy and laugh all the way to the bank?

Spiritually, I'm something of a mess. I have been not a little afraid. Of what, precisely I cannot be sure. Life in a tent, I guess. I am not afraid of starving to death or falling down dead in a ditch. I am more afraid people will laugh at me after I do.

I had too the excuse of severe thunderstorms. It seems there are always severe thunderstorms. I find myself rather inconvenienced by severe thunderstorms. I do not object to being hit by lightning. I think it would be a cool way to die. And it is unambiguous. God himself wants you dead. Same goes for being eaten by a bear. I think it would be neat.

But I do get so uncomfortable in wet underpants. The rest of me dries out fairly quickly but they stay damp all day. I have always appreciated a toasty pair of underpants, right out of the drier. They make you feel loved. This is the opposite of that. Cold underpants make you feel despised.

So I thought a rest might do me some good. I could have planned it better, I know. I should have stuck at Orange Acres and asked them to let me sleep. Or at a motel with a swimming pool. Or a view.

I can look across the gravel parking lot and see the trains roll by. There is that great Big Sky. And mountains in the distance with snow on them. I don't think they are for me.

Though I came in the back way, Drummond is on the interstate. It is odd what that does to a town. It brings commerce; there are five restaurants and three hotels. I've stayed in two of them. But there is no big shiny truckstop or McDonald's franchise. Not many people stop by. Years ago everyone would have driven right through town. Now it is sort of desolate. Some folks stop for gas but there's the real sense of the world passing you by.

I did spend some quality time studying my map of Montana. I think I know a way out. Or at the very least to the Continental Divide, from which point it is all downhill.

Love James.
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Thursday, July 14, 2011

Day Forty-Seven, Bedraggled

I climbed out of my tent and into a rain. I was soggy to the shorts. A few cyclists rode by up above. None of them made any greeting. I at my dried fruit and it did not make me poopy. It did make me hungry, though. It was to be the last food I had for another twenty miles.

Or further. I don't really know. I walk and don't ask questions. Four or five miles up the road I managed to latch onto the old highway, now a sort of frontage road. As promised, it took me all the way to Drummond, Montana. I paid a price though. It was an uphill run. More so than the expressway. It runs further along up the hillside and is on the other side of the river. It carries you from valley to valley over high hills, where you can look straight down at the river. In the lowlands there were skeeterbugs. In their hundred-thousands.

And it was raining, then hot, then raining again. My shorts had started chafe. Lightning bounced off the hills all around me and I was starting to get all shivery. And I was hungry, dammit. Half starved to death. Gaunt, a shadow of a man. It is a strange feeling being hungry in an unfamiliar land. It rather saps your will. It weakens your thighs and sends painful cramps across the back of your hands. It makes you wonder just what in life brought you to this. It makes you a little lonesome.

I must say I staggered into Drummond. It was some distance off my road. Another mile or two and you would have found me collapsed in a skeetery ditch. Or in my tent with just enough water and nothing at all to eat. I was worried that if I stopped I would never get going again.

I slid into a tavern and ordered a Coke. The shivers had settled in. I got a burger but I was too hungry to eat. I talked to the bartender Jim. He looked a bit like Larry the Cable Guy and did not object when I told him so. He is something of a wanderer too, but he always winds up back in Montana. I know how he feels. It feels like I have been in this state forever, and I entertain but slim hopes of ever getting out alive.

Don't pity me, for Heaven's sake. I brought this on myself. And I know I overdramatise. I still tend to think I might die. No great loss to anyone but me, but I am sure I would take it personally.

I wound up spending the night in a motel. I may wind up spending two. I cannot afford it but I am beat to shit. Do please forgive that expression. I don't have the gifts to better describe exactly how I am feeling.

I have too some decisions to make about which road to take from here. There's a scenic route through the mountains and a few old ghost towns. It would take me all the way to Butte. But it means going up and over some mountains I would otherwise avoid. The option is to climb back on the interstate. I am told that's a downhill run.

Though I can't see how it possibly could be. I have been seeing Rocky Moutains since I was two days outside of Spokane, but I don't think I have seen them yet. But I think Butte is at or about the continental divide, which means eighty miles straight uphill. What happens then I couldn't tell you. Maybe I'll be tougher by then.

The hills around here are great, by the way. They are shaped like mountains but there is no snow on them. That could just be because it is so blasted hot. They are here made of limestone, not that crumbly old basalt, so the cliffs are sharper and more dramatic. There is more grass than sagebrush between the pines, so it looks just a little bit golf coursey. I have been walking uphill. Arlee, Montana, where I was kidnapped by cultists, sits at about 3200 feet. Stevens pass was only about 4000 feet. Butte sits at about 5500 and I think the pass is another thousand feet higher than that.

Walking uphill really tires me out, but not in any obvious way. I only notice the really steep grades. Anything less than four percent or so just makes me tired, without my ever being sure why. I should mention that it is now one in the afternoon the next day, and I am still in Drummond. I believe I must be the slowest walker across America ever.

But I have other gifts. It is only for us to discover them.

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Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Day Forty-Six, Over My Head

Our friends at Google Maps tell me I walked twenty-two miles today, but I think they're just having fun. And I can't blame them; at this point I need all the encouragement I can get. But I doubt I walked even fifteen miles today. Uphill and into a wind.

I breakfasted as a guest of Poor Henry's Cafe & Bar, Clinton, Montana. I had a chance to talk to the owner. As best I recall his name was not Henry. He was about my age only strong and good-looking. He used to be a middle linebacker for the University of Montana. He was too puny for the NFL. He's only like six three.

Grizzly football is big around here. I have met some ardent supporters. And every business has got a Grizzly decal, stuck somewhere in the window. I asked if being a U of M football star was kind of like being a movie star.

"Yup, pretty much."

"And girls giggle when you walk by and restaurants give you free food?"


There you have it. He seemed pretty well adjusted. He has stayed in shape and seems consistently cheerful. He owns a thriving business and coaches at the local high school. He has a daughter in college. Everyone thinks he's swell.

Had I been blessed with movie-star good looks and an Olympic physique, I am not sure I would have turned out as well. Better than I have, certainly, but not as well as he did. It would have turned me mean, I tell you. I would have gone egomaniacal. It would be too much for me. I couldn't deal with it. I am better off without the burden of physical attractiveness.

Which is not to say I have no burdens at all. I gots dozens of them. I am lazy. I am weak. I am rage and jealosy. I am unfocused. I am forgetful. I am painfully shy at parties. I resent the success of other people. I'll lie to stay out of trouble. I have no substance, only potential. Flattery works on me.

But I am not good looking, thank Heaven for that. I am what I am cause I'm homely.

I wound up getting an awfully late start because I needed to recharge this little computer. Our correspondence means ever so much to me and I would just shrivel up and die if I were cut off from you. But it does mean a great many hours spent loitering in taverns and typing with my thumbs. It is more work than one man should be asked to do. What I need, my friends, is a Boswell.

From sumny Clinton it was up to Rock Creek. I managed to stay off the interstate by hiking on a sort of service path next to the railroad. I stopped frequently and too long rests.

Rock Creek is home to the annual Testical Festival. Testy Festy, as it is known, began as a bar promotion but it has grown up into a sort of x-rated county fair, popular with bikers and men with their hands in their pockets. People eat batter-fried testicals and take off all their clothes. All manner of ugly things go on there. Rock Creek. First week of August.

The bartender at the Testical Salloon was spectacularly beautiful. I could barely look at her without blushing. I have finally figured it out. In Montana they hire pretty girls to tend bar, whereas in the other states it is always some toothless old guy or the biggest, meanest, most humorless old cow you can imagine. Viva Montana!

From Rock Creek I was obligated to walk on Interstate 90. It is something I have been dreading. You are so exposed out there. Frontage roads come and go, remnants of the old highway, but you can't get to them. You are hemmed in by a barbed wire fence.

I stopped whenever I could and took long rests. Then it started to rain. They have been promising me thunderstorms for a week but they never pan out. Today we got a doozy. I dove into a ditch and set up my tent, a full ninety minutes early. I am wedged between westbound traffic and a fence.

I am, however, artfully hidden. There is a corner and a very steep bank. I did have to cross the freeway to get here, though, and I don't look forward to doing that again. And if it keeps raining, my ditch will inevitably fill up with water and wash me out to sea. Forensic scientists will be confounded as to how I got there.

And the really tricky bit is that I have to walk twenty miles to Drummond tomorrow, or I shall starve and surely die. I have been making every effort not to study my map of Montana. I find it discouraging. But somewhere along the line I seem to have misjudged the distance between town. I gots plenty of water but I have not got much to eat. I do have a big bag of mixed nuts and dried fruit, but I am afraid it will make me poopy.

An interstate highway is no place to get poopy.

But it will be a nice little jog. Uphill. With a headwind. Exposed to the elements. Any hope I had for an early start was lost in the two hours it has taken me to type up these notes. So I will continue my practice of walking when the sun is hottest.

I LIKE TO think of myself as living proof that anyone can Walk Across America. You just got to be kind of dumb.

I SEE A LOT of deer along the freeway, in all stages of decomposition. It does give me something to look at.

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Monday, July 11, 2011

Day Forty-Five, All the Pretty Girls

Woke up early and not wholly recovered from my stomach ailments. It was tempting to stay where I was. The lady who ran the motel said I should take a day and explore Missoula.

Missoula is home to the University of Montana and is at its heart a college town. It is on a river and a great deal greener than what I have been walking across. It has a proper downtown and a lot of little shops. Even in the summer there are all kinds of attractive young people about.

They make me feel old and ugly. It must have been Sunday when I rolled into town because all the little shops were closed. Good looking town, though. I wouldn't mind living there.

But as I discovered in Spokane, these big cities aren't a great place to be a hobo. In the small towns people seem almost happy to see me. Not so in Metropolis. Perhaps because the interstate is nearby, Missoula seems to be experiencing something of a hobo infestation. I counted no less than four of the beggars while I sipped my morning coffee. I had occassion to speak to one.

His name is Hoss and he is moving this way and that, hitchhiking mostly. He was a head taller than me and missing most of his teeth and lauged maniacally. He invited me to smoke his pot. I respectfully declined. Still it is heartening that so many people offer. God bless America, I say.

From there it was down the road to East Missoula. It was quite a nice little hike. I am at last walking beside a river again. It was on my right and to my left was the railroad and beyond that was interstate 90. Towering over us all was a high rocky hill, covered with grass and pines. And sheep. Hundreds of them. They had a great deal to say. I kept an eye out for shepherds or dogs, but it seems they were pretty much on their own. It was like Brokeback Mountain.

An Indian named Michael bought me lunch yesterday. He had a big smile and long black hair and a cowboy hat. He could have been on TV. Someone asked him why he tucked his jeans into his boots and he said he liked for sheep to stand their hind legs in his boots so they couldn't run away. Everybody laughed and laughed.

East Missoula is separated from Missoula by two or three miles of wilderness and is a town unto itself. I don't know why it doesn't have its own name. If it were up to me I would call it "James", or after somebody I loved. I stopped there for lunch.

I was not yet sure at that point how my tummy issues would resolve themselves and was in no great mood for walking. There are certain urgencies which make the wandering life particularly difficult. Lunch may have settled me somewhat, but I drank too many Cokes and it made me all sloshy.

I have discovered the American tavern. Dark, seedy-looking estaishments, with their neon beer signs and their heavy wooden doors. They are the only place open in many small towns and, get this, they serve lunch. Cheaper than cafes and if you buy one Coke, they keep filling it for free. And there are always affable drunks to talk to, even at ten in the morning.

From there I went on to an enormous truckstop down the road. I had pie but it wasn't very good. The truckstop itself was fascinating. Huge place. Huge. It has its own casino. I sat in the 90-degree sun and watched the trucks for an hour. America do have commerce.

I have long since had a similar insight from watching the railroad, which I have been following since I left Seattle. Train after train after train aftet train, full of all kinds of good stuff. America is doing business, I tell you. Lots and lots of it.

Onward then to a tavern in Turah. I was doing a regular pub crawl. I am told the locals call this string of pubs the Trapline, though that may refer to the drunk-driving roadblocks the State Patrol puts down the road from each one. But everyone stays in cellphone contact to know when it is safe to drive home.

To my surprise and delight, the tavern at Turah was packed to the rafters with beautiful women. There must have been four of them in there. The prettiest one gave me free Cokes. She was very tall and I think I love her. I didn't care how sloshy I felt. I stayed a very long time.

I then moved on to Clinton, stopping once or twice on the way. Today has been all about forty-five minute walks, punctuated with two-hour breaks. I still managed fifteen miles, which is amazing considering how the day started. I was feeling rather ill. But I am good now.

Better for having arrived at a very congenial tavern, not too far from Clinton, Montana. The usual gang of sixty-year-olds was out front, drinking beer and passing a pipe. They invited me to join them. There were pretty girls, too, dozens of them. My favorite was one called Gwen. She wore a yellow sundress and had braids like Pocahontas. God bless America, I say.

I am now camped behind that very tavern, comfortable in a gravel parking lot. There is something relaxing about camping with permission that almost touches the thrill I get from camping without it.
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Day Forty-Four, Rumblings

I am still in Missoula, holed up with an upset tummy. I am treating myself with a strict course of fruit juice and muscle tension. I shall overcome.
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Saturday, July 9, 2011

Day Forty-Three, Missoula!

"You ain't going."
"Stay. You're one of us!"
"The Truth You are Seeking is Here!"

They tried all their wily, cultish tricks to get me to stay at Orange Acres. They filled me full of farm fresh eggs and trained their dogs to wish me good morning. They gave me a pipe to smoke and a comfortable bed. They put me to work welding trailers. But the time had come for me to move on. I said my goodbyes and departed.

By which time it was two in the afternoon. I really didn't feel much like walking. I'd have rather been on Henry's porch, talking and sipping a soda. I seemed to have lost my mojo somehow. I wanted a nap in my cabin.

But there are times, I've learned, when you just gut it out. I barely wept and I didn't look back. The first three miles were straight uphill, a hill I've been climbing for weeks. After that the bottom drops out and it is down all the way to Missoula. I stopped enroute in Evaro to enjoy a life-giving burger. A nice man called Leo bought me lunch. A man called Michael gave me cash for another. A pretty waitress brought me genuine Cokes, not the inferior brand. Join me in thinking well of Evaro, Montana, now and in perpetuity.

As it was I've been feeling awful all day. I have been just a little bit poopy. And my tummy is sloshy and there's sweat on my brow, even when I am not in the sun. I can't say Shitty Smitty poisoned me. I helped him make dinner. I used his pocket knife to cut up the garlic. He keeps it razor sharp.

At the thirteen mile mark I crossed I-90 and would have been delighted to check in to a motel there, but they were both full. So I walked another three miles or so and put up my tent. Ingenious spot. You'd have to be a hobo to find it. Invisible in the heart of the city, or at least around its ankles.

I AM UNACCUSTOMED to pipe smoking. It makes me feel like Fred MacMurray.

CHEVY SUBURBANS are known locally as Mormon Assault Vehicles
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Day Forty-Two, Orange IV

I am Here

I am still at Orange Acres, the commune, the cult; down the road from Arlee, Montana. I had meant to leave but I stopped in for coffee and long story short, I'm still here. I fed the goats and made friends with the chickens and brought water to the fruit trees. And I washed a few dishes and helped make some trailers but you can't say I'm earning my keep. I am eating fairly well around here and I don't really do much at all.

I spent a lot of my day with Henry who was scraping some glue off an old speedboat. He works precisely and so smoothly that he looks slow, but he moves quickly. He keeps his eyes on his work while he talks. He returns again to a favorite theme, his version of the Golden Rule.

"A psychopath is someone who tries to get you to do something he don't want to do himself." By Henry's reckoning there are a great many psychopaths in the world.

He tells me about the six months he spent as a crackhead. He had seen people destroying their lives with crack cocaine and was determined to investigate. He moved into a van and smoked crack.

"I couldn't wait to quit," he tells me. "I had a big red X on my calendar. But I promised myself I'd give it six months."

He wanted to know why crack ruined so many lives. He finally concluded it was because people are lazy. He says crack just made him work harder. "To get money for crack."

And after six months he quit. "That was twenty years ago. My dealer from back then still calls me. Now we are friends."

You meet a lot of interesting people when you live in a commune. There are groups within groups. I have tried to spend time with them all. I ask a lot of questions and insinuate myself and show up where I've not been invited. It is one way to make friends. I believe there is not one single person left on the compound that I cannot now greet warmly by name and with whom I cannot engage in familiar conversation.

Everyone was very impressed that I spent three hours with a bat flying around my room. I have since moved to a smaller cabin, closer to the bunkhouse. It has a Western theme and is made from old pallets. It also has electricity. I hoped it would let me use my alarm clock and wake up early. But it also has a heater. It is thirty-seven degrees
outside. Inside I've got Christmas lights.

I meant to turn in early but I wound up smoking pipes with Bevan, my neighbor, and Joe who lives down the hill. He is a mechanic for the Orange used car business and she is a butch lesbian. Now she is a student but she used to be a truck driver. She uses the F-word a lot. She writes slam poetry.

So here I am now at two AM. I ain't going to wake up early. I am going to sleep in my well-made bed. We'll see what goes on in the morning.

JOE HAS TATTOOS and likes to say things like "Hail, Satan!" He is thoughtful and well-spoken but admits he is not much of a people person.

GOATS have odd noses and weird little tongues and yellow, sinister eyes. They like to climb and they are not shy about knocking their heads together. They do seem to mean well, though.

I BELIEVE that if it were necessary, like to save the planet or something, I could, given time, make a flatbed trailer. Welding, wiring, everything. I think I could do it.
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