Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Day Ninety-Six, Nebrasky!

Find me now camped in the state of Nebraska, or better still, no place at all. You'll find there is always a gap of some few hundred yards between the ENTERING and NOW LEAVING signs. It is what you might call a DMZ, or a sort of free enterprise zone. South Dakota does not seem to want it. Nebraska has less interest still. I am half tempted to claim it myself. I am thinking of calling it James.

I cannot be sure how far it extends. One assumes to the Pacific or so. And the Atlantic on the other side. It is at least as wide as the state. And free to you all for homesteading. Taxes will be fairly low. All I ask is that you try to be nice to each other and that you invite me to dinner from time to time. I am a rather big eater, I warn you, but my manners do not offend.

I'll be pleased to write our Constitution myself. I have a few good ideas. But do not look on me as the Father of Our Country. I would much rather be its Weird Uncle.

I was determined to reach this spot. It meant walking twenty-five miles. The last five of which happened well after dark. Nobody said this is easy. But it is a sacrifice I gladly make that we may Forever Live Free.

Staking my claim was a little bit harder. I could not see a blasted thing. An open field looked promising. I climbed in and put up my tent. All its components are color-coded. Idiot-proof, if you will. That is, for the daytime idiot. At night we may struggle some. We may even swear; we may even squeal when we feel hot breath on our neck.

A curious horse had snuck up on me to see what I was doing. He was black as coal. He was a just a horsey shape in the night. He startled me just a bit. I clapped at him and he ran away. Horses are applause shy. But in the darkness I heard a demon. Hee Haw, Hee Haw, he said. Hee Haw, Hee Haw said someone else. The horse just stood by snorting.

There were too a number of cows. Cows, I should say, just love me. I am a hero to cows, you know. I was sure they would have my back. But how long could they keep back the others, I wondered. Those donkeys were out for blood. I threw my tent over the fence and scrambled after it. Remember it is pitch dark. I am now camped on the strip of grass that borders Highway 385. A little too close to passing cars, and glaringly visible to the world.

I am hoping the jurisdictional haze will prevent officers from either state from coming over to yell at me. This is the newborn republic of James. Yelling is not encouraged here. And you can camp wherever you want, just stay out of vegetable gardens. It is a new kind of nation, kinder, more gentle. Wipe your feet when you come in.

Last night I had a much better spot. Hobo skills, don't you know. Three paces in any direction and I'd have been exposed to the world. As it was I was invisible to all but the friendly snakes. I was snug in a small patch of prickle burrs. I carry a few with me now. Tenacious little beggars, I tell you, and sharper than razor blades.

Trucks were rolling in well before dawn, picking up loads of gravel. I was briefly tempted to start out early but I figured more sleep wouldn't hurt. Rest, sleep, and proper nutrition are the keys to keep muscle fresh. I eat like a horse and spend a lot of time resting, but I am too often cheated of sleep. Napoleon, it is said, slept very little indeed, and he came to a bitter end.

So I forced myself in the name of good health to sleep just a little bit longer. As it was I slept until 7:30, a bit longer than I should. I may have gone on sleeping but it was blasted hot. The sun was curling my tent. They promised a good hundred degrees today and they were as good as their word.

I was hungry. My next food was in Oelrichs, a mere twelve miles away. A year ago I'd have laughed at that distance. Now I know it is just far enough. My wide and comfortable 385 South narrowed to just two lanes. But there are two more going in; I moved over there and walked on the hard packed clay. It is all but ready for a layer of asphalt. There were road graders going by. And great beastly machines, articulated, made by the Caterpillar company. Like nothing you have ever seen before, only a great deal bigger.

Resting under a rare bunch of trees, one of them rolled up. They are even bigger up close. This one was adapted to haul water. I talked to the driver. He had no front teeth. Every two hours he drove down to a pond and filled up with ten-thousand gallons. From a pump hooked up to an old John Deere. It took all of six minutes. The rest of the time he sits around for sixteen dollars an hour. In the winter he collects unemployment insurance. There is not much work in the snow.

It was good of him to chat with me. He gave me a Marlboro. But I was more interested in his monster machine. "It don't got no brakes." He stops it, he says, by bumping into things. It had better be something big. They trained him for all of two hours or so. "Then they just turn you loose."

He laughed like a maniac. Eventually the foreman stopped by. He told me to stop walking on his unfinished road. Footprints, I guess, are a minor concern. He was more worried about his insurance premium. Well, I could tell his insurer a thing or two. He's got virtually untrained maniacs zooming around in 100-ton trucks. But I climbed back up to the highway, after walking a few hundred more yards to show that I cannot be bullied.

That's the problem with these bold, decisive leaders of men. They think everyone is a follower. I haven't lead my life of dissolution to take orders from the likes of him. Hell, I'll go so far as to injure myself to keep from taking good advice. But even my stubborn philosophy lets me step out of the way of road graders.

At Oelrichs (population 145) I found the Office Bar and Grill. Or Lounge, perhaps, or something like that. Not such a bad little place. I had an enormous burger and thirty-nine Cokes and recharged my little computer. I saved my fries to eat tomorrow. They will be my last food for a while. I am not merely poor. There will be no more food until I'm well into Nebrasky.

I had better put in another good day tomorrow, else I will be stuck in Chadron for the night. It is twenty miles off and l, I am told, a big city. That makes it hard to camp. I got stuck indoors in Hot Springs because my timing was bad. I don't have the funds to do that again.

I do hope I find a shower or a spiggot of sorts. Good gosh, but I have got myself stinky. And dusty and dirty and gritty as hell. It is affecting my self-esteem.

I guess I'll be OK here overnight. I wish I could be more sure. I am troubled by the fact that I have no idea what's around me, no picture of the landscape at all. And by the big black horse, his head over the fence, breathing on me through my window.
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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Day Ninety-Five, Tongs and Tote Bags

I very much enjoy staying in motels, though I never do get much sleep. There are too many big things for me to do. There is television to watch. And hot baths to take and whiskers to prune. I like to look in the mirror. My reflection no longer looks much like me. He is probably better off.

And there is gear to reorganise and dry. I think I like the chairs best. You would be surprised how few good places in Nature there are for a boy to sit down. Usually I sort of squat on my pack. It is not entirely restful. In the future when I am really rich I am going to get me a recliner.

I was up until four; I woke up at seven. There was a hell of a storm last night. I was happy to be indoors like I was designed to be. I did not have any root beer but I did enjoy an Antiques Roadshow marathon. Say what you want about PBS. I for one find it soothing. And their documentaries rock. Their dramas are good. They do do some fine reporting. You don't have to wait until pledge week, you know. Go ahead, write them a check.

I am Walking Across America to Raise Money for Public Television.

And to meet girls.

When I did crawl out into the world it was awfully hot out there. Yesterday all but had me convinced that winter had already come. When I got to Hot Springs it was cold and dark and I was shivering like a Chihuahua. But today it was back up into the nineties. I wish it would make up its mind.

Hot Springs, South Dakota is a dead little town but it is pretty as all get out. There are indeed hot springs, somewhere or other. I did not make it up there. It has been a sort of resort since the 1880s. It is meant to have curative powers. For me any old hot bath will do. I do my best bathing alone. Or with an extraordinarily close friend. Or with a few dozen Japanese men. Communal bathing is big in that country. Not everything else is.

I had the meatloaf lunch at a local cafe. The waitress asked me how it was. As did the cook; it put me, I thought, in a rather awkward position. Honesty is the key to good art. And I tend to giggle a bit when I lie. It was fantastic, I said. They did give me extra marshed potatoes. Marshed potatoes are Nature's Perfect Food.

I did have a lot of laundry to do. I was wearing my last pair of shorts. The ones I found in a laundromat in Helena, Montana. They were in fact just my size. Eww, you might say, but you don't understand. God wanted me to have them. He did, I believe, want me to rewash them first. I have long since made them my own. To the extent that if I were to inadvertently leave them behind, no one would pick them up. Not without tongs, at any rate, but that's neither here nor there.

As a sort of practical joke on tourists and the like, Hot Springs has put its two laundromats side by side at the top of a very steep hill. I went to the one painted pink. A nice lady gave me two magazines. I got my computer recharged. And stole paper towels from the mensroom. Not many; I think I'll be fine. I have already put one of them to good use. How, I would rather not say.

It is always nice to get my clothes clean. Next time I may add some bleach. I am afraid I am getting a little to stinky for just detergent alone. Maybe a capful of kerosene would do the trick. Then again, maybe not.

There was a nice view of town from the top of the hill. It is built on a strip between cliffs. A nice little river runs down one side. There is a waterfall downtown. "It's fake," I was told by one local cynic. "The water company put in a pipe. They just did it to get tourists."

I think it was nice of them. Most of the buildings of any significance are built to last out of stone. Not just the courthouse and banks and such, but homes and shops, as well. There are some neat little wooden buildings there, too. Most of them looked pretty old. But well-maintained and often for sale. Hot Springs has seen better days. I could, though, imagine myself living there, if not all the way through the winter. It is the gateway to the Black Hills, of which I am very fond.

I ate again before leaving town. I guess I didn't need to. There is a documented psychological phenomenon. I don't remember what it is called. Food paranoia, or something like that. It happens a lot among campers. You get an unreasonable sense that you are going to starve and it leads to gluttony and hoarding. Friends have killed each other over peanut butter in the course of a two-day trip.

I had the chicken wrap, thank you. It came with fried potatoes. I had a little trouble eating it all, but I figured every bit helps. And it was good and the people were nice and the girls who worked there were pretty. It was a little cafe in the back of a pawn shop. You need hobo skills to find places like that.

Leaving town I soon left the Black Hills behind. It is hard to describe the land here. This corner of South Dakota can't seem to decide if it wants to be Nebraska or Wyoming. There are rock cliffs and sagebrush, then a cornfield. And those too well known rolling hills. And it was plenty hot. Tomorrow it is meant to be hotter.

Camping may get tricky from here on out. It is hard to hide a tent in this land. I've been spoiled of late but here it is too wide open. I am in a dodgy spot now. Tucked among the snakes behind a smallish gravel pit. The tire tracks all looked fresh. Worst they can do is throw me out, or beat me half to death.

We'll see if I can't put in some miles tomorrow, though in so saying, the jinx is in.

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While I cannot, with my little computer, put up photographs here, I have been able to post one or two to my Facebook page. Now I suppose there are dozens of James Pierces in the world. I don't know how you'll find the right one.

Post a link, someone, if you are so inclined. Thank you very much.
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Day Ninety-Four, Suck and Blow

There were thunderstorms in Montana. They rolled in almost every day. But they would pass in five minutes, rarely more than ten. I barely even got wet. Let alone struck by lightning or soaked to my shorts. They were a nice break in the day.

So I did not much mind the morning rain. It was a nice excuse not to walk. I squirted some cheese on a hamburger bun and listened to Morning Edition. Seven or eight, it's the same to me. I would still get an early start. And I was up in the woods; no rancher was going to run me off of his land.

So I settled in to wait out the storm. I made another cheese sandwich. And another and one more after that. I ate up all of my food. But this is South Dakota and when it rains it means to rain all day. I took a nap and drank half my water. I crawled outside for a pee. My mountain was surrounded by clouds. It was by now one PM.

Thing is, I was hungry. My water was low. Hot Springs was eighteen miles away. I couldn't last up there forever. I thought about walking back to Pringle. But they'd laugh at me; I do have my pride. I headed southeast in the rain.

In fact, I waited until it had stopped. It stopped for all of two minutes. By the time I got my gear packed up you would think I had fallen in a pond. And it was cold, bitter cold. My pack weighed a ton. I thought about putting my tent back up.

I hadn't used my raincoat for weeks. It is heavy to carry around. But I strapped it on and worked my way down the hill. It was awfully slippery. There was lichen covering every stone. The algae bit can get slick. And years of bone dry cow pies were every last one reconstituted. At the barbed wire fence I put a gaping wound in the back of my one left hand.

I must have hit a vein or something. You have never seen so much blood. I must have lost a quart and a half. Perhaps as many as two. For our international friends, that is nineteen litres, or enough to fill a small pool.

It is a lovely road, this 385, wide and not too well travelled. It snakes up and over some beautiful hills. I didn't enjoy them as much as I should have. I was too busy feeling sorry for myself. I worried about my computer. I keep it wrapped up but it was in with my gear and three or four gallons of water.

If it dies I cannot afford to replace it. I am not walking for the thrills. I am walking to meet girls and record my thoughts, at least the ones fit for wide distribution. I have kept a lot back, the juicy bits. For those you will have to wait. But even these fairly benign reports mean all the world to me. If a tree falls and no one's there to hear it, you might as well just stay home.

Man, I tell you, it was pissing down. It takes much of the fun out of walking. But at the same time I was enjoying my martyrdom. There is a joy in feeling sorry for yourself. And, like I said, it was bitter cold. I glared at each passing car. I like driving, warm on a cold rainy day. I wanted to give each one the finger.

I am not speaking metaphorically. I really wanted to do it. I thought somehow it wojld cheer me up. In the end I controlled myself.

A couple of miles took me to Wind Caves National Park. I confess I had never heard of it. It is a few thousand acres of mixed grass praire, more or less as it once was. From the Mississippi the Rocky Mountains, from Mexico to Canada. Wind Caves now is all that is left. It is, trust me, beautiful.

Beautiful. Really. And it smelled fantastic, I guess because of the rain. Like a cross between a really fancy shampoo and Willie Nelson's bus. There were roiling clouds flinvg the sky. The whole place had a Hobbit vibe. It was cold and rainy and magical. Maybe it was the contact high.

Entering Wind Caves you cross a cattle guard. That is, for our international friends, a series of bars placed over a pit. It works as well as a fence. Cows worry about breaking their ankles. So do I, as a matter of fact. The most likely way I will injure myself is crossing a cattle guard.

There were too a number of warning signs. "Watch Out for Buffalo. They'll Kill You Just As Soon As Look At You." "Buffalo=Death." "If You See a Buffalo, Lock Your Doors and Drive Away Fast."

I really wanted to see a buffalo. I've got no use for the nanny state. They couldn't scare me; what are they? Just cows, after all. Cows love me, I will have you now. I am a hero to cows. And while there were once sixty millions of them, there are now just five-hundred or so. But to see just those thundering over the praire would be quite a moving sight.

All I saw were praire dogs. I am rather fond of them, too. But most of them had a little more sense than to be standing out in the rain. And there were a few drowned snakes; good riddance, I say, vile and hateful beasts. But no buffalo. I was feeling let down. I kept my eyes on the horizon.

So I almost missed the one buffalo, eating pansies by the side of the road. Rather startled me, she did. A big gal, too. Not fifteen yards away. The warning signs all flahed back to me. I was just a.little bit scared. Manfully, I'll have you know, but this was a government warning. I was preparex to see them on the next hill, not standing a short pass away.

I gave her all the space I could. The road was narrow there. I don't really want to be trampled to.death, no matter what I might say. I was too worried she would follow me. She is but a cow at heart. But she didn't and I passed unscathed. Her friends were waiting over the hill.

A good dozen of them. They were lying down, except for one grumpy bull. There are no fences in the National Park. I had his full attention. I was wearing a bright red raincoat. He scraped his front hoof on the ground. Some tourists pulled up to take his picture and his vanity won out.

Even domestic bulls don't like me, jealous cratures that they are. A big old bearded buffalo would not hesitate to mash me flat. I was even concerned about the cows. They have not been bred to be gentle. There is an intimacy in the act of milking which they have never experienced. For all I know they are meat-eaters. For all I know I am prey. And they've just got them running around loose. God bless America.

Even without the adrenaline boost I was making good time. It was either make it all the way to Hot Springs or drop dead on the way. Or get awfully cranky, at the very least. The boy has got to keep fed. And I got a ridiculously late start. And it was still raining.

Wind Cave, by the way, is named for its caves, which underlie most of its praire. There are a hindred-some miles of passages down there, and one or two good-sized lakes. They breathe, too, in and out. Apparenty with some force. I do not know the mechanics at work. The visitor's cented was too far off my road. It is, nonetheless, my favorite National Park. I hope to return one day.

In a Land Rover, with rhino bars. And a couple of kids as bait.

I did make it all the way to Hot Springs, in one long long soggy run. It was dark and I was beat to hell. I was chafed and had a case of the snoofles. I spent some money that I don't have to check into a hotel.

It was my intention not to, you know. I have been inspired by Lee, the recumbant cyclist. He never sleeps indoors. He has only one shirt. He sleeps under parked cars and eats pinecones. But he is tougher than me, what can I say. I was starting to shiver.

I needed a hot bath and to dry out my gear. I needed to eat and take a hot shower. I've got laundry to do and I've got groceries to buy to prepare for tomorrow's walk. I did get a fairly good deal on a very comfortable room. Whereas I have been trying boyish charm, today I was all business. Listen buddy, I said to the little man, it is late and late in the season. Give me half price or I am out of here. He did not know I was bluffing.


CHEERS to the generous man on the road, who helped fund this luxury. A little soft living will do me some good. Don't be ashamed of me.
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Sunday, August 28, 2011

Day Ninety-Three, Purple Cows

There was a thunderstorm in the very wee hours, at or around my tent. I learned the secret of dealing with these things in Japan. You might call it my brand of Zen. There there are earthquakes almost every week. If you let yourself be afraid you'll go mad. You must accept the fact that you are going to die. That brings with it a certain peace. If you live it comes as a pleasant surprise. And if you don't there is no harm done.

I lived.

In the morning it was raining again. I spent my first hour indoors. Then it was back on the road after some minor difficulty finding my way to the trail. These Black Hills are a very pleasant place to camp. You can disappear into the trees anywhere. But, and I have done the same thing tonight, I disappeared a little too far.

I like Nature. I am glad it exists. But I have never felt any compulsion to experience it, if you will. Camping has never appealed to me. I am glad to see it from my car. Or read about it or see it on TV. I too much like the indoors. But on this trip I have often been happiest when I am far from any trail.

Not too far, you understand. I have no keen sense of direction. I can hear the traffic over there somewhere and that is just fine with me.

Last night I stopped walking just in time. In another mile I began to see homes. And a mile after that I found myself in beautiful downtown Custer. A nice little town from what I could see. I guess it has been there a while. Now it does its best to appeal to tourists, like Deadwood on a much reduced scale. In Deadwood they stage gun battles in tbe streets. In Custer they sell T-shirts.

And breakfast, I was happy to see. I had sausage and eggs and hash brown potatoes, perhaps Nature's most perfect food. I had a cinnamon roll on top of that. And forty-three cups of coffee. I discovered too late a breakfast buffet, hidden far in the back. I could have massacred a breakfast buffet.

Back on the George S. Mickelson Trail, I was a little confused. The sun in the sky said I was headed south, but it felt all the world like I was headed north. I know most of my weaknesses; I trusted the sun. Everything worked out fine.

There was almost no one else on the trail today. I guess it is not such a popular section. Three mountain bikes passed while I was up in the woods, eating weeners and hamburger buns. I did not regret not getting to meet them. They wouldn't have said hi anyway.

I ran into some local volunteers, packing up their rest tent from yesterday's 100-mile race. One runner, they said, excused himself there and walked up to town for a beer. Then he came back and ran the last thirty miles. He is seventy-nine years old.

They had until noon today to finish the race. Forty-some people dropped out. After a mere sixty or seventy miles. Quitters, you know, never win.

I walked slow today. I have got to break that habit. The days are getting too short. When I started, early summer and way up north, I had almost twenty hours of daylight to work with. I could goof off all day and do a ten-mile sprint after 7 PM. Now it is getting dark by then. I have got to walk when I can. If I don't get my tent up by eight o'clock, the snakes take all the good spots.

It was awfully hot early in the day. My trail was going past farms. Which meant less trees but more cheering cows, so there is good in everything. Not long after noon a thunderstorm rolled in, or threatened to, at any rate. I never got more than a few drops of rain. The lightning kept itself on the horizon. I was prepared for much worse. I holed up under a wooden shelter when I should have been putting in miles.

Eventually I made it to Pringle, SD. It is a two-tavern town. The second saloon may have been a cafe. I don't know; I stopped at the first. I was entertained by some good gentlemen, enjoying their beer on the porch. One fellow, Matt, treated me to three Cokes. The bartender bought me one more. His name was Jamie and he is a kid. I expect from him great things.

Matt, from Hot Springs via West Virginia, gave me all kinds of things. Some deodorant, mine is wearing thin, and a great big tub of tea. And a bottle of water and some electrical tape to repair myself in emergencies. And some kind encouragement and some good advice. Cheers, Matt, you are one of the best.

There was too, among the others, another man. His name I did not catch. He looked like Clint Howard and was covered in grease and he had sunburned himself to a turn. He was loud and drunk and exceedingly happy. I thought I might have to pop him one. But as I talked to him I learned he had some depth. He really weren't a bad guy.

I told him about the elk I saw yesterday. I was really just throwing him a bone. I expected him to say how he would have liked to shoot it. What he said surprised me some. He went on for a while about how beautiful they are. He taught me about their habits. He got serious and not just a little poetic, then he grinned and went back to his beer.

I left the saloon at six o'clock. I planned to do another six miles. A half mile in a pretty girl in a Jeep offered to give me a ride. When I declined she went back the other way. I figure it must have been a trick. The guys at the bar must have sent her to me in order to test my resolve.

I have a weakness for pretty girls. In glasses, better still. But I am walking now and deeply in love with a US forest ranger. I'm not sure how that is going to work out. I am somewhat handicapped in that I do not know her name. Nor do I expect to ever see her again. I am pretty sure she is not even a ranger, but rather some brand of biologist. Better still; that means she's smart. You can buy those hats anywhere.

And probably too young for me, though that has never stopped me before. I am possessed of a youthful vigor and a woeful immaturity.

At Pringle, by the way, I left the trail. I am now on 385. It is a beautiful stretch of road. I really like these Black Hills. And the folks are kind. No one in my presence better slander South Dakota. As I walked over the hill there were purple clouds to the east. I thought of Ogden Nash. I never saw a purple cloud. But I had very much hoped to see one.

I AM INFORMED that there is some chance that at some point during the night, I may be trampled by buffalo. I would not wholly object to that. I have no wish to die and I am not good with pain, but it would be one hell of a way to go. The topper on my biography, if you will. What ever happened to James, anyway? He was trampled by buffalo.

SOME MILES BACK I was fed peanut butter by Tom and Linda from Wisconsin. Tom is a jet pilot and very much looks the part. He has that confidence, almost a swagger, that you expect from that kind of man. I think it is worth noting that he is bad at reading maps and was, as a lad, kicked out of the Boy Scouts of America. I think it humanizes him. His wife, however, is flawless.
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Saturday, August 27, 2011

Day Ninety-Two, Superheroes

I had meant, yesterday, to arrive in Hill City some time in the late afternoon. It was my hope to get myself fed and spend some time at the train museum. I am fond of trains, you understand. I guess I always have been.

But the sun had gone down when I limped into town. Gone was my chance of a meal. I barely had time to stock up on cookies and tinned meats at the local convenience store. It is a nice little town and I would have like to explore it, but my feet hurt and I needed sleep. So it was back down the trail in the all but pitch black to find a place for my tent.

It took all my hobo skills, I tell you. I couldn't see a blasted thing. And Hill City, SD is just big enough that it sprawls a bit either way. It wouldn't do to set up in someone's backyard. I couldn't be sure I did not. But I woke up safely in a cow pasture. It turned out I had done fairly well.

It was lumpy as heck but that worked in my favor. The lumps were in all the right spots. They cradled me and gave me some back support. They made me feel just a tiny bit loved. I was exhausted; the electrical storm passed by almost unheard. I woke up almost with the dawn feeling quite a bit better about life.

My feet still hurt, but what about that. I'm used to it by now. I ate a stale box of lemon cookies and climbed back up to the trail. It took some doing. I don't know how I found that place in the dark. Hobo skills can't be explained.

I made it all of a couple of miles to the Rafter Bar J Ranch. "Pancakes," said their sign. "All you can eat. $2.50."

I ain't much of a pancake eater, but I must say it caught my eye. And compelled me to walk up a long steep drive into just about the nicest RV park I have ever seen or heard about. With broad green lawns and log cabins and even a baskeball court. Surrounded by trees and spotlessly clean. I made my way to the breakfast tent.

For $3.50, the very last bit of my cash, I invested in biscuits and gravy. The coffee they kindly threw in for free because I was pitiful. And they kicked in with orange juice and encouraging words, just what I needed to hear. And I found a nice place to juice up my computer. I rather needed that, too.

It took a while. I was there for hours. Well past twelve o'clock. A good-hearted stranger gave me some money which I put toward a shower bath. I could have snuck in but that would not have been sporting. They had been so nice to me there. I more than got my money's worth and am much better for soap and hot water.

I had not washed my hair since I was in Alzada. It was starting to itch a bit. And the shampoo I used there had a persistent smell that grew stronger every day. I believe it was the brand my grandmother used. I've been thinking about her a lot.

I was back on the trail in fairly good humor. It was nice to get clean again. My computer was charged and though my feet still hurt, they weren't as bad as they had been. It was by then in the low nineties and I did not mind much at all.

I met a nice couple from Minnesota, the Mullers, I think they were. I have the damnedest time remembering names. I know it's a character flaw. They gave me an apple and a ganola bar and still more kind words of encouagement. I rather thrive on encouraging words. And I respond very well to flattery.

People who can't be flattered lack soul.

I gnawed my apple on the trail. It was awfully good. I lost my first tooth while eating an apple and have not much cared for them since. But they ain't so bad and I like that you can throw away the core. I littered a sardine can when I was in Montana and the guilt of it torments me still. Poe himself could not have known how I suffer. Littering, my children, is bad.

I was passed by a sickly looking long distance runner. Then by one or two more. They were wearing numbers. I stopped the next and demanded an explanation.

They were competing in a race. It is going on even now. From Hot Springs to Hill City and back again for a distance of 100 miles. One-hundred miles. One-hundred of them. In ninety-five degree heat. I scored free Gatorade at one of their rest stations and chatted with the support staff.

There are 120 runners in all. 100 are expected to finish. This is one of their easier races with a rise of only 4000 feet. They got one in California that goes up 16,000. They like to challenge themselves. The faster amongst them can finish the course in less than 16 hours.

I think of those cross country cyclists. They all seem to think they're so tough. But the bicycle, I'll say it again, is a labor-saving device. I liked that boy Lee. He was smart and funny. And he was nice to me. And he started at the arctic circle and carries all his own gear. And survives on acorns and grubworms and such. But the rest of them are just jerks. Walk a mile in my moccasins, then ride by without saying hi.

But these runners, I've got to tell you, have humbled me. I feel like a lazy turd. Every one of them ought to be famous. They ought to put them on postage stamps.

And they're nice, believe it or don't. I would not blame them if they weren't. We'd exchange a few words as they trundled by. Most were fairly quick to laugh. One man begged me to shoot him dead. I steadfastly refused.

One of the leaders, the one I liked best, was a bald man wearing a tutu. A pink one; it matched his shoes. He may have been Australian. He seemed to get his own joke. Now there is a fellow I'd buy a beer for, any time that he asked. Maybe not dinner; I would not take him dancing, but he runs with my respect.

Hell, they all do. They are amazing to me. I knew these people existed. You see them on TV from time to time, in Death Valley or the Outback. But it was an honor to meet them all up close. And to a man, they got what I'm doing.

To a woman, too. There were plenty of them. Folks of all shapes and sizes. The frontrunners more than looked the part. Many others were just a bit chubby. And many were old, surprisingly so. It takes a while to build to this sport. And there was one woman with, how shall I say it, really enormous boobs. I will let them inspire me. It seems we all have our burdens.

Heroes, I tell you, the lot of them. If they win they get a belt. A big one, like a prize fighter's, but nothing more than that. This ain't a TV sport. There's no money in it. They do it because they're insane.

I PASSED THE Sitting Bull Monument, the one meant to rival Mt. Rushmore. It still ain't done. Work has slowed since the sculptor dropped dead. They do got the face done. It will be spectacular when it is finished. He'll be sitting astride his horse. Hundreds of feet high, looking to the south. But it won't happen any time soon.

I AM CAMPED high in the trees. I did not want to frighten the runners who are still coming by. An elk, a geat big one, wandered close to my tent and barked out his mating call. That was a new one. Wow.

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Friday, August 26, 2011

Day Ninety-One, Good Days and Bad

Those blisters I was laughing at yesterday do not seem so funny today. I missed two of them, one on each heel, that I should have dealt with last night. They are fairly serious. They sit right where my feet hit the ground. I try to take heart at their symmetry. There's meant to be Beauty in that. Or was it Truth. Just now I forget. I don't think there's really much difference.

I walked twenty-odd miles in jaw-grinding pain. Often rather flat-footed. Which leads to other pains here and there. I'll inventory them tomorrow.

I meet all sorts of helpful souls ready to share their advice. My shoes are wrong or my socks are wrong or there is something wrong with my stride. The implication is always that it is some sort of moral failing. But know this, this is between me and my feet. Shut up or I'll mash you flat.

"Now wait a minute,* you want to say. "Just what is going on here? This isn't the warm and cuddly James that we have grown to love."

So call me multi-faceted. Credit me with some depth. Whap your thumb with a hammer and write a sweet poem about it. Eat ice cream with a broken tooth and go and play with your kids. Walk twenty-odd miles on blistered feet and pretend it's all sunshine and daisies.


I woke up early on my mining claim, in among the pines. Gosh, but it got dark back there, and rather chilly, as well. There are fogs in these montains, or mists at the least. They make their own weather. Not every bit of it is good.

Much of it is, don't get me wrong. There's always some shade around. Which, on these very warm days, is nothing short of a blessing. Even when the sun is high overhead I can always find a cool spot. I have to elbow aside a few snakes, but I'm getting used to that.

I wish I knew how to do macrame. I could put them to some good.

I was today carrying an official pass that permits me to use the trail. Nobody stopped and asked to see it. It is probably better that way. It was after all a forgery. I can't say how it came to be. I had one or two co-conspirators. There is some honor among thieves.

I was trying, you'll recall, to walk without food, or very nearly so. I was destined to be a bit cranky. I had a protein bar for breakfast but it didn't do me much good. The label said that was for athletes. An athlete, sadly, I'm not. I have pretentions of scholarship. You've got to special order for that.

I cracked open my last can of off-brand smoked weeners. I choked down four out of six. The rest I left for the mountain cats. I made the mistake of reading the label. Mechanically separated chicken I can take, but pork skin and pork spleen were too much.

Not kosher.

The Mickelson trail is still awfully nice. It took me up through a gorge. There were a few tunnels but they could have been longer. I like to be scared just a bit. I have mentioned before a fear of ghost trains, but it does not paralyze me.

And it is cool in their and smell like one-hundred years of trains. And twenty of hikers' pee. It is a nice change from all that piney freshness. It is the variety that makes life spicy.

The rail line that is now the trail was decommissioned in 1983. Passenger service, such as it was, stopped during WWII. It was built in eighteen-seventy something to replace the stage coach line. Which travelled, it seems, from brothel to brothel. Them miners were a randy bunch. And there was all manner of ore to haul out, and all sorts of things for the mines. A sign said that they laid 255 miles of track in 100 days. It did not say how many of them there were. They did have a steam shovel on their side, but it didn't look very good.

I did pass one man panning for gold. He wasn't having much luck. It is like fishing, he explained, an excuse to be out of doors. But with fishing you get the occasional fish. He scoops up maybe one gram a year. I figure that worth, what, sixty-five bucks. It's more than I get paid for walking.

We are coming up on a weekend, it seems. There are all sorts of mountain bikes. Three kinds, it seems, only one kind I like. Some are the same jerks on road bikes. A second group are less serious, but they are jerks, nonetheless. The last bunch, the only that I much like, are just folks, muddling along. Staring at trees and not working too hard. They bypass the long uphill runs.

Good for them. My trail map has a sort of EKG printed along the bottom, showing the elevation at different points on the trail. I climbed something like three thousand feet today, maybe a couple of times. It left me hungry and grumpy and sore. And in something of a violent humor.

My little computer informs me it is about to conk out, for want of battery power. Let me quickly thank Tom and Linda, more good folks from Wisconsin. The let me loose at their peanut butter. They gave me two glasses of milk. He is strong and confident like a pilot should be. He used to fly corporate jets. She is sweet with very kind eyes. They make one hell of a couple.

I met other folks, too, a lot of them kind. I've got no time to thank them all here. Nor can I remark on the unholy hell that was finding a place for my tent. Or on the overpriced crap I had to buy instead of food. Or on my fears about what comes tomorrow. Or how I have suffered for so soon giving my heart to one pretty forest ranger.

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Day Ninety, Moonshine Gulch

It was an awfully hard day and I'm not wholly sure why. I guess I can blame the terrain. My first ten miles were wholly uphill and took me past 6000 feet. But it didn't seem that bad at the time. My legs, I thought, were just weak.

For I have implemented an austerity plan, partially inspired by my friend Lee, the recumbant cyclist who eats nothing but pine cones and grass, but owing more, perhaps, to a very real poverty. I am trying to wean myself off food and have cut my accustomed 6500 calories a day to a more economical 3000 or so.

It may be what they call a false economy. Some way or other you pay. But who knows, I might get them well-defined abdominal muscles like them fellas you see on the TV. Or I might just keel over and go back to the earth. I guess it could go either way.

My feet are still getting used to my fancy new shoes. I've got a few blisters here and there. Nothing major; I laugh at them. I still think I made a good investment. I ain't sure, though, and I won't say I am. I'll let you know from Nebrasky.

"It's Nebraska," more than one person has corrected me. They lack my folksy sense. And I may as well admit here that there is no better way to piss me off than to suggest improvements to my English. Or my Japanese, for that matter, though my Japanese is frequently wrong.

My English is never wrong. Ever. Nebrasky. Suck on that.

I did not sleep well though I should have, high on my lonesome hill. It was as far back country as I have ever been, from the start of this adventure. But I dreamed I had broken or sprained my wrist and it pained me all through the night. And for half an hour after I woke up the thought of it gnawed at me.

It is funny that when I dream something good, like that I have found my One True Love, that dream fades away immediately. I open my eyes to sad disappointment. Which lasts for hours if not weeks or years and years more after that.

I had the damnedest time climbing down off my hill. I had forgotten how I made it up there. I had given some thought to my descent before I climbed off the trail. But somehow I spaced my mental notes. I could have broken my neck.

But I didn't, thank Goodness, and made it back to the trail and set off on my daily hike. A few easy miles on tender feet took me to the next trailhead. This Mickelson Trail is lovely in that. There are toilets and lots of good water. I avail myself of this latter item. I've gone wild in the other regard.

At the next trailhead, some six miles off, I rinsed my shirt and my head. And can but offer my humble apologies to the picnickers who had to witness that event. They were the brave young men and women of the US Forest Service, enjoying a working lunch. I pestered them with all manner of questions, which they answered graciously. And they gave me a donut.

I am of the firm belief that it was a private donut, not a government donut. Don't look for malfeasance here.

The US Forest Service is fast becoming my very favoritest government agency. They are scientists, bright and hard-working and have never been anything but kind. And you may recall the forestry guy I met while walking naked across the Continental Divide, his truck stuffed to the rafters with beautiful women.

I swear to golly, it was like a clown car. One after another. You had to wonder how they all fit in there. I should have that once asked for a ride.

I think, though it is wrong to rush into these things, I may be wholly in love with one of the young women I met today. She's seen me shirtless and bearded and not at my best. I do not pretend to be in with a shot. And perhaps it is all for the best. This way no one gets hurt.

No one but me, but I can take it. It hasn't killed me yet. But do know that if I could live life over again, I would study biology and go to work for the United States Forest Service.

My trail, too, keeps getting prettier, meadows and canyons and such. Even in my wearied and heartsick state I found room to appreciate that. Perhaps none of it is any too much better than Index, Washington. But the fact that it's here and in no way expected gives it that little extra push.

There are a few more snakes than I would allow if I were in charge of the place. I haven't seen any rattlers but there are any number of little snakes, both black and green. "Harmless," some smart alecks might call them. Evil is never harmless. They bully me by their very presence. If they weren't so slimy I'd pick 'em all up and tie them into stout knots.

"Snakes aren't slimy," you protest. Slimy is as slimy does.

There are, too, turkeys, dozens of them. It's like Thanksgiving down at the mission. I had always believed they were solitary beasts but in fact they travel in great herds. They spoom easily but not until they see you, by which time you may be very nearby. It is not inconceivable that you could catch one with cunning and your own two bare hands.

I had a ten mile stretch to the next water spot. I can do that in well less than three hours. For whatever reason it took me six. I was just beat to hell. I stopped several times to eat sardines and feel sorry for myself. The miles did not roll by. It even rained for a while, though the sun was bright. It was in the high nineties today. I am trying to enjoy the warm weather. It will be cold enough.

At long length I reached Rochford, South Dakota. I was half starving to death. I had my heart set on something fried, whether I could pay for it or not. Rochford is a town of some two-dozen people. It was not on my trail. I had to cross the river and double back, a half mile up a steep hill. When I arrived at the local saloon I was rather in the mood for a brawl.

"Shut up," said the barkeep, "or I'll break your legs." I hadn't even known I'd been snide. She was Betsy who has run the Moonshine Gulch Saloon for more than thirty-five years. I confess she rather reminded me of my mother.

I expect there all all sorts of bars today with names like the Moonshine Gulch Saloon. They are designed by marketers in New York City and are authentic in their every detail. But at the same time about as genuine as Compassionate Conservatism.

This Moonshine Gulch is the real deal. It has probably been there in one form or another for almost a century and a half. This is the Wild West. This is where it happened. In Deadwood they've shined it up. And in Montana they like to pretend, but all of that came much later.

There were dozens of towns up and down these hills. Every one gets a plaque. Here and there you'll see a crumbled foundation or the remains of some mine or mill. But as often as not they are gone forever, towns of five-hundred or more. Rochford survived, just barely, because its mine kept producing, off and on, until the 1930s.

These hills still contain all sorts of gold. Finding it is the tricky part. I suppose it is only a matter of time before someone invents a sort of ground-penetrating radar that pulls the rug out from under the world economy. Inside of five years you'll be able to but one at Sears. You won't be able to give gold away.

I keep my eyes open as I walk along the creek, looking for a nugget of my own. So far no luck, but I remain hopeful. Fancy new shoes don't come cheap. In fact, though, if you look at the trees, prospectors are here hard at work. Discrete little papers mark this claim or that, in a system little changed since the 1870s.

So if I find my nugget I'd better not get caught, or I'll have to give it back.

It was my fond intention to have dinner at Rochford and stuff my bag full of food for tomorrow. But all I've got is plastic money and frighteningly little of that. They don't take plastic money round Moonshine Gulch. I was poop out of luck.

But Betsy in her good grumpy way stuffed me with chicken and fries. And gave me a good-sized plum for the road. It was awfully good. She might maim you but she won't let you starve. Cheers, Betsy, you're a pussycat at heart. I promise not to tell anyone.

She too offered me space for my tent and even the use of a shower. But I am keeping fairly clean in the river these days and every additional mile up the road is one I won't have to do tomorrow. I've got two cans of weeners and a protein bar to carry me twenty more miles. Tomorrow there'll be no messing around. Tomorrow I've got to walk.
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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Day Eighty-Nine, Dead Wood

It was cold last night, up in these hills. I got a small case of the snoofles. A lesser man would have got the pneumonia and by now would be several hours dead. I can cope with a snoofle or two. That's why God put sleeves on our shirts.

I was up at seven. I meant to wake up at six. That's life without an alarm. I was some distance in among the pines. There was not much sunlight back there. Which means I rolled up a soggy tent. My fingers were cold and brittle.

I took my time climbing out of my tent. I thought I owed myself breakfast. I cracked open a can of smoked weeners. Good golly, but they were foul. They were different than my usual brand. They cost a good fifteen cents more. I ate every last one of them. I wanted to throw them away.

I wasn't too eager to climb back over the fence that had nearly emasculated me. But when I did I had no problems. I guess last night I lacked spring. Which is not so say I was so bouncy today. Not this morning, at least. My legs were just a bit noodly and I had a big hill to climb.

And oh, what a hill; it went up up up up. It got my heart going, I tell you. I had drunk up my water so by pack was light, but I was sweating like a chimpanzee. A sweaty chimp, not the regular kind. It was almost embarrassing.

It was hot. I swear you could hear the rocks cracking where the cut went through for the road. And the steel guardrails were twisting and shifting and pulling against their bolts. With the whistling of tires on the concrete road it made quite the symphony. Which is good because I think my little radio has died. It sure lightened my load while it lasted.

At the top of the hill, a few miles up, was a monument of some kind. It marked the place Preacher Smith was murdered in eighteen seventy-something. Shot, it is said, by Indians. They never found out just who. I suppose the poor Indians just got the blame. It was probably a disgruntled parishoner.

Preacher Smith, said the plaque, came here to save souls among the miners of the Black Hills gold rush. He had his work cut out for him. Deadwood, the local metropolis, was a town founded on avarice and thievery, and sustained by liquor and prostitution.

Now it is tourism. There are historic buildings and cowboy shows, bus tours and statues and such. All of it commemorates their rich history of avarice, thievery, liquor and prostitution. With the odd murder thrown in. Wild Bill Hickock was gunned down here.

Deadwood was founded in the 1870s upon the discovery of gold. No one much minded that this was Indian land, by the Treaty of Laramie. No one but the Indians, of course. It was for Custer to deal with their complaints, which he did with terrible efficiency. Until the Little Big Horn, that is. Call it karma if you'd like.

Tomorrow they're having a free rock 'n' roll and classic car show. I almost want to stick around. A little loud music might do me some good, and I do love the classic cars. I was hoping to see one or two here today. I was pleased to see one red Corvette.

A sixty-three, the split-window, one of my most favorite cars. It was beautifully restored, but to be driven, not as a museum piece. It was piloted here from Billings by Darryl and his wife, whose name I do not immediately recall but whose beauty will haunt me forever. And their little dog Coney, a homely little thing, chubby but with a great heart. I talked to them for the better part of an hour, about their car and other important things. I thank them for making the time.

I then stopped in to the tourist office to check and recheck my route. I left more confused than ever. But I pulled up a bench in the shade outside which is where you find me now. Typing these words with sausagey thumbs and recharging my little computer.


I met too a group of retired folks, over here from Wisconsin. I like old people and mid-westerners. They're always so pleasant and kind. They told me they were Conservatives. I told them I was a left-coast Socialist. I am not, precisely, but I am Left of Obama. They did not too much mind. They said I looked young for forty-two. They could not see me blush through my sunburn but I could not conceal my smile.

It broadened when they bought me lunch.


I met some more folks on my way to get fed, three college kids from Oshkosh. Folks from Wisconsin are thick on the ground. This is their Riviera. They were Bret and Derek and Rodeo--that's his "trail name". The other guys had trail names, too, but they are not fit for publication.

I would ordinarily be hesitant to greet college kids, and outdoorsmen can be a humorless lot. But I guess in the last thousand miles or more I have earned my place in that crowd. They had just finished a three day hike through the Badlands, a region I took pains to avoid. Take a moment and Google "Badlands" if you cannot imagine why.

They were fully offroad, and even off trail for three long thirsty days. My adventure involves much more suffering, I believe, but theirs could have done them in. And they were nice to me which you don't always get from college kids these days. I salute them.


And, get this, I met Norman the Briard, the most famousest dog in America. Google him if you don't believe me. I tell you this dog is a star. Rather acts it, to tell the truth. He was just a little aloof. He has been on Good Morning America and David Letterman and all kinds of local TV. I have seen him myself. He rides a scooter. He is pretty good at it.

He's a big fluffy thing. He wears a ponytail like a lot of that Hollywood crowd. He did condescend to have his picture made with me, and his family is real nice. They travel around with him in a camper and wait outside while he promotes dog food. It ain't a bad way to see America. Better than walking, I reckon.

I met all kinds of other folk too. It is like Leavenworth, Washington. There is sort of a theme at work here. Only instead of Bavarian Village it is Wild West. There are people from all over the place, taking pictures and trying on hats. If I had more money and time, it might be a nice place to hang out. But I don't, so I ate a subsidized cheeseburger and headed south out of town.


And met some luck, it turned out, or so I believe. I'll let you know tomorrow. I was walking south on a winding little road with no shoulder whatsoever. When across the street I saw a bike path. It looked like it went the same way. I stopped at a bakery (and casino, no less) to get the local skinny. Turns out it will carry me almost out of the state.

I took them at their word and followed it. Soon enough it turned west. This was made glaringly obvious by the sun shining bright in my eyes. I hate going west; it is good work undone. It headed north a bit, too. I was beginning to feel a little forsaken. I asked a man for directions.

He was Allen, out on his mountain bike. He had a heart attack last year. He spent the winter eating too much and feeling sorry for himself. Come the spring he decided he would just as soon live and now is out getting in shape. And doing well, it seems. I am happy for him.

I have spent most of my life eating too much and feeling sorry for myself.

For many years he worked in the mines, manning a hydraulic drill. Those things weigh at least a hundred pounds and bounce all over hell. He looks like a more or less average guy, but I bet he could crush my skull between his thumb and forefinger.

But he wouldn't. He is a very nice man and was most supportive of my adventure. He told me when and where to turn and put me back on my way. This is the Mickelson trail and I'll bet it is the very best way through the Black Hills. It follows the old Burlington Northern line, except where some trestles are gone. It is covered in gravel, but little gravel. Big gravel hurts my feet.

You are supposed to pay to use the trail. I didn't and I feel like a dog. Money is a little tight at this point. It seems no one else pays, either. That's what the honor system will get you, boy. You ain't at West Point anymore.

But it is a beautiful trail and well maintained. I think it is worth the funds. Montana Department of Fish and Wildlife, I admit that I owe you three bucks. You'll get it out of me sooner or later. Thank you for your kind patience.

The Black Hills are lovely, by the way. I think I was selling them short. I think I was conflating it with the Black Sea, where the Soviets had their drab resorts. But there is nothing second class about the Black Hills. It is really a nice place to be.

In fact, there was a moment a few miles back, when I stopped for my loaf and fishes, when I experienced the sensation of being exactly where I wanted to be. That may be nothing to you, but not counting, shall we say, romantic instances, I don't think I have felt that way a dozen times in my life.

It has since passed but I am not unhappy. I am well off the trail, high on top of a hill. I climbed up here at some personal risk. That's not to mention the cougars. All over the place and hungry for blood. Peoples are their favorite food. It rather recalls the bear warnings I've been getting all along.

I ain't afraid of cougars. I get along great with kitty cats.

I HAVE SINCE received a most gracious e-mail from Craig at the SDDOT. He and his friends are part of what is no doubt the most efficient and hardest working office in the state. I feel just awful about making snotty remarks about them yesterday. From now on I will count to ten and wait a week before making snotty remarks about anyone. Or try to. I am but human.

I COMMUNED with a chipmunk. He shared my crackers. We chatted for a brief while. Chipmunks love me. I am a hero to chipmunks.

THERE ARE the ruins of some old mines up here. I like finding the remnants of civilisation in the wilderness. It reminds me of Logan's Run.
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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Day Eighty-Eight, Rattle and Hum

I slept until ten minutes after seven. I have been waking up at six. On these short winter days it is better that way, but I guess I needed the rest.

Still, in theory, I could have been back on the road by not much later than eight. But I didn't leave my tent until nine-thirty. Blame Satan himself for that.

For I was ready to go well before then. I put on my shoes and unzipped. The ground around me was covered with spiders of every size and description. I didn't give them a whole lot of thought. My attention was on the snake.

A rattlesnake, a good thirty inches long was making his way past my tent. He did not even notice me. I, though, noticed him plenty. He did not look unkind. He looked almost friendly. He seemed to be humming to himself. He looked as if he had some place to be, perhaps a pleasant lunch date.

Snakes are evil. I hope someone kills him with a stick.

When I did climb out I packed quickly, I tell you, standing on tippety toes. And I was across the thirty yards to the road in three or four bounding strides. It was ninety by then but I was ice cold. My voice was a little squeaky.

I walked down the hill to Spearfish, South Dakota. I can't say I much liked the road. Four lanes, divided, like an interstate, but here and there a crossroad. Plenty of people waved at me but I had others gesturing for me to walk in the tall grass next to the shoulder. With the snakes. I should have offered a gesture of my own. I know one for every occasion.

The state patrol rolled by twice. They were not that much put out. They did not stop and yell at me. I'll accept that as tacit approval.

I have a letter in to the South Dakota Department of Transportation, asking if I can walk on the interstate. If necessary, that is, I don't relish the thought. They still haven't written back. Washington and Montana both gave me prompt answers. The Washington guy, I think his name is Ian, was even really nice about it. SDDOT, you do not impress. Pull out your thumbs and get snapping.

As it is I've found my own route out of Dakota. I am headed south through the Black Hills. It is said to be the prettiest part of the state, though not the flattest at all. From there I am headed across Nebraska. Gather your hills while ye may.

In Spearfish I had a burger for lunch, six waters and twenty-nine Cokes. I know I said I was going to starve, but I will be there soon enough. And it was cheap; it's a big enough town that prices are not too too bad. At a K-Mart I bought both weeners and fish and olives for when I have parties. And Gatorade for not too much more than tapwater. It is more refreshing and far less likely to give me the poppin' fizzies.

The real expense was brand new shoes. Good ones; I am taking no chances. So what if it means I must go without food. I am hoping my feet will be happy. If not ecstatic, at least quietly glad. And for the most part, uninjured. I chose carefully. I hope they last. But that will be up to the road.

After some miles my feet did hurt, but in new and intriguing ways. They do seem to be awfully hot, but that may not be their fault at all. It was a good 98 degrees today. That'll warm anyones toes. When I hauled out my arch supports the plastic was too hot to touch. Really.

My shoe consultant was a girl called Kayla, with a smile and a dimpled chin. And a low-cut blouse. I mention that in passing, apropos of nothing at all.

Spearfish, South Dakota is home to some 9000 souls and not a bad place at all. They've retained some of their prosperity. Real estate's doing OK. And farming and industry and tourism. Sturgis has done them some good. Those half million bikers spend enough money around here that most folks pretend that they like them.

They don't. I am certain of that fact. Though you won't find anyone to admit it.

"People in Spearfish are two-faced," said Jake, a man I met in the park. He is a Viet Nam vet and a former truck driver, a bit down on his luck, it seemed. But sober, rather opressively so. He seemed a bit mad at the world. He had, though, had some pretty rough breaks. I don't blame him at all.

He was sure the bad guys would get theirs in the end. "Karma," explained it all. I am something of a believer in karma myself, though I don't know if mine is good or bad. I guess I do put some good out in the world, but any negatve energy finds in me a place to grow.

While I was talking to Jake a little bug came and bit me hard on the arm. Karma. It still hurts. I don't think there was any venom involved. He just bit a big piece out of me. I squished him dead.


I squeezed out of Spearfish on a frontage road. That was an unhappy stretch. There was no shoulder and traffic was moving fast and there were snakes all over the place. Every time a car came by I had to climb in amongst them and hope they accepted me as one of their own.

I stopped at a bakery (and wine bar, no less) to beg a few drops of water. It was an elegant place, wedged in amongst the car dealers and trailer hitch shops. I wish I had known it was there. I had already spent all my carb money on crackers. I even remember wishing that there were a bakery around.

C'est lovey. Belle Fourche. Grand Teton, s'il vous plait. At any rate, it smelled nice in there. Wide Mouth Frog, it is called. I got the feeling the baker lady didn't really believe I was Walking Across America, but she gave me a sugar cookie just in case.

It was a very good sugar cookie. Sugar cookies are easy to get wrong. They are deceptively simple, like Japanese food. The ingedients may be few. But the proportions are tricky, the timing precise. Any idiot can make syrupy teriyaki or a bad sugar cookie.

I bet her bread was pretty good, too. I wonder if this is still bentonite country. The water might be one of those secret ingredients that can't be reproduced anywhere else. They say Olympia beer owes its taste to the water, but I think in their case it is more about non-union labor and spotty quality control.

I eventually made it to Highway 85 and turned south into the Black Hills. Another fairly narrow shoulder. With bumpity strips cut in every forty feet. They are sharp and hard on my toes. Roads in South Dakota are made of concrete. The cars make a whistling sound. From the ridges cut in to let off the rains. Wet concrete can be slimy.

Concrete must be cheap in these parts. Or maybe the governor owns a concession. Or maybe the SDDOT never got around to reading the e-mail explaining the benefits of asphalt.

The Black Hills themselves are an odd bit of geography. Geology, should you prefer. They are proper mountains, but they're the same rolling plains, only taller and covered with trees. They are shrouded in haze and they do look black across the dry grass of the plains.

Find me now camped comfortably in the Black Hills National Forest. I did not get too far today. I went a mile more than I meant to. The State Patrol had a speedtrap set up across from the first good spot I found. I am not sure how legal it is to camp here.

But they have seen me walking now dozens of times. No interviews as of yet. This ain't Montana; they're out in force. It's weird seeing cops again.

I may have signed on for a few more hills than I bargained for. These are, I repeat, proper mountains. We'll let you know how it works out.

I RIPPED MY TROUSERS, right at the crotch, climbing a barbed wire fence. I am glad it is cold up here. It could have been much much worse.
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Monday, August 22, 2011

Day Eighty-Seven, Recumbo

I was up at six, as has become my habit. I had not been asleep long. Three, four hours, not one minute more. Far less than is decent or correct.

I had the damnedest time falling asleep. I had been too long on the road. And I was especially cheered by my victory over the once great state of Montana. And the weather was fine, in spite of the storm. It was a balmy sixty-five degrees. It has been so cold at night of late that I thought winter had already come.

The storm only briefly threatened to kill me. The winds were hard on my tent. But the lightning was never too near too long and a little rain never hurt anyone. I have been through proper monsoons, I tell you. I have seen it raining frogs.

When my rainstorm ended I sat outside my tent, staring up at the stars. It is something I don't do often enough. They're awfully pretty these days. And there was lightning on every horizon, sheets that lit up the sky. And bolts like you would see in a time lapse photo, but happening in real time. There was no thunder that I could hear. It looked like Alzada was getting hammered.

To the southeast was the town of Belle Fourche. You could see it ten miles away. A searchlight somewhere was sweeping the sky. I thought about walking again. But a little sleep now and then in good for a boy. I finally turned in around three.

In the morning I was not at all well. My every muscles was tired. Not sore but worn out and my feet hurt a bit. I had come by it honestly. I had damaged one blister leaping over the fence. The rest was good wholesome ache.

There were antelope grazing not too far off. I was afraid there would be cows. They love me, you know; they'd be all over me like so many puppy dogs. I just did not have the time. The weather report got another one right. It was in the high nineties today.

Back on the road I had no strength at all. I found a tree after three miles. I breakfasted on weeners and sardines and the last of my hsmburger buns. And half a gallon of Gatorade that I had been saving for a special occasion. A trainload of kitty litter rumbled by. It seemed to be struggling some.

I took some convincing to get moving again. It was too hot to go or stay. And I had to climb a steep hill to the road. It took almost all that I had. But soon I ran into a friendly cyclist. There are one or two, it seems.

His name is Lee. He began in Alaska. He is on his way to New York. Or Chicago. Or Miami. Or Mexico. He has time to make up his mind. He rides sixty or seventy miles a day. That ain't too too awfully bad. He travels light; he's only got one shirt and seems to live exclusively on carbs. Wiry fellow, and tall, tall. He had a spectacular nose.

He is from California but grew up in New Zealand. His accent comes directly from there. And he is not your typical cyclist. He rides a recumbant bike. With a chair for a seat and his legs out in front and his handlebars somewhere beneath him. And he actually slowed to talk to me. Not typical at all.

I sped to a four or five mile pace. He slowed as much as he could. I talked; he listened; he talked a bit too. We practically flew into town. It was a long hot stretch I was rather dreading. I did it in record time.

He didn't, of course; it was good of him. He is an intersting guy. And a Bolshevik, just like me. We Bolsheviks get lonesome sometimes. On the edge of town we found a spot in the shade and sat there for too long a time. It was nice to have someone to talk to. Someone who understands.

As it was, we rather cheated ourselves. We were huddled behind a gas station. Turns out Belle Fourche has a couple nice parks. There were much better places to sit. He did let me ride his bicycle. That was nice of him. It was remarkable comfortable, but scary to stop or turn.

I am afraid I wasted too much of the day, but I did enjoy our talk. When we parted ways I found a coin laundry and spent three more hours there. I was getting a little stinky in my old age, and my last shirt had gritted up some. And my computer was woefully undercharged. These are things that need to be seen to.

I did meet a nice biker from California and Kentucky, and everywhere in between. He retired from his job making quarters for the mint, but was a little too young for just fishing. So he rides around with his grey ponytail. He reminded me of Tommy Chong.

I didn't get moving until six o'clock. I still hadn't had a proper meal. But I decided to skip it and save the expense. Good food does not grow on trees. And I am sorely in need of shoes. I'll eat when I get hold of them.

I haven't had much appetite lately. That's one way to save a buck. I can lose another ten pounds without looking ill, maybe twenty without getting sick. I am still dropping maybe two pounds a week. Maybe I'll try three or four.

I did suffer a minor disaster leaving Belle Fourche. It came on all of a sudden. I was struck by the symptoms of what on the Subcontinent I called maharaja's revenge. I won't trouble you with all the details. Just know it could have been ugly. And a crying waste of the five dollars it cost me to wash my clothes.

I can't say I've yet fully recovered. Tomorrow I'll get some pills. I haven't been poisoned; it's the water round here. It's a mineral thing. On a brighter note, I think I have found another use for bentonite. Keeps a fellow regular, it do.

Explosively so.

I wasn't sure I was going to find anywhere to camp. Belle Fourche rather spreads out some. And Spearfish is a dozen miles over the hill. Their suburbs meet in the middle. In the end I found a great spot. Someone has camped here before.

BELLE FOURCHE is pronounced "Bell Foosh", which is French for "beautiful foosh." Explanations have been offered, but I am still not sure what a "foosh" is. I'm not sure I want to know. Recall that it was the French who named the Grand Tetons, or "Big Tits". To my more sensitive readers, I apologise. I merely aim to inform.
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Sunday, August 21, 2011

Day Eighty-Six, Wyoming! South Dakota!

It took me two months to cross Montana. I've picked up the pace a bit since. I was in and out of Wyoming in a long afternoon. Find me now camped in South Dakota. That's the Midwest, to anyone keeping track. The West itself has been won.

Mastered. Conquered. Chastened. Crushed. Seized and brought sharply to heel. I've tamed it. I broke it. I have made it my own, to do with whatsoever I please. I crossed Montana from corner to corner. I think that gives me fair claim. I may go so far as to rename the state. I am thinking of calling it James.

I woke up early. I do that these days. I hadn't slept well at all. The ground was too flat. It had me confused. It's the lumps, you see, that define me. And as I was camped behind a truck stop, there was a great deal of noise. Passing trucks don't bother me much. I've slept on the railroad tracks. But a reefer just putt-putt-putting all night can really get on your nerves.

They sell little generators to keep a truck's systems running all night without running the engine. They cost more than ten-thousand dollars. A driver I met was bragging about his. He said it would pay for itself inside a year with reduced fuel costs. Makes sense to me. It is one of those things like an investment in infrasructure or a university education. My years in college have yet been a net loss, but I am the oddest exception.

I sat next to the Alvada coffee klatch and wolfed down some biscuits and gravy. It was all a bit pasty but I didn't mind. It's the paste that sticks it to your ribs. And the coffee was good and I enjoyed eavesdropping on the ranchers' conversation. They spoke of tractors and truck parts and hay. They all wore the right kind of hats. I knew most of them from the day before. It is a very small town.

I am not, though, in love with Alvada, Montana. I was primed to leave town. But I wanted to gas up my little computer for another few days on the road. And it said it would be in the nineties today. That turned out to be a lie. But it too much recalled that unhappy stretch that brought me from Billings to Hardin.

I had a very strong sense that today would be awful. I get that from time to time. Or more often than not. My pack would be heavy and some days the walking is hard. But I was back on the road by nine-thirty or ten. It really could have been worse.

It wasn't ninety or ninety-five. It was a cool eighty or so. And there was enough of a headwind to keep me refreshed without threatening to knock me down. And there were no tempting trees to rest under, just miles of rolling plain. Though most of it seemed to roll uphill. I am headed for the Black Hills. Home to Mt. Rushmore, though I'll give that a miss, unless it just happens by. Most of its magic was lost to me when I learned it was not a natural formation.

I was walking uphill across a desolate land. It wasn't hot but it was plenty hot enough. And my pack was heavy and my feet were sore. And for some reason I felt good. I set a blistering pace and maintained it all day. Today I walked twenty-eight miles. Twenty-eight. That's my longest day yet, and I swear I could have gone another ten. But it does get dark early in these winter months. And I did not want to push my luck.

It was an interesting road in its own barren way. There were a number of trees to the south. And mountains, high mountains, in the distance beyond. I believe I'll go around them. And there are antelope which are a nice change from deer. I was getting rather tired of them. My friend Wyatt calls them cantaloupe. He's seven and from Iowa.

It is worth noting here that in a very small way I am from Iowa myself. No one gets to slander Iowa but me or people I like.

A few miles outside of Alzada I crossed into Wyoming, Dick Cheney's adopted state. It is worth noting here that once he got drunk and shot his best friend in the face. Some people say he's an evil genius. I think they're at least half right.

The highway from there was not raised much at all. It looked as if it were painted across the surface of the grass. And the horizon was often suspiciously close, like those faked moon landing photos. I have always like Wyoming, believe it or don't, but I am beginning to wonder if it is not a government fiction.

I did not have much chance to investigate. I was through it in twenty short miles. I saw a few cows but fewer people. I did stop at a house to get water. The folks there were friendly and gracious and kind. I did not trouble them to ask their names.

As it turned out I didn't really need water. It is hard to know how thirsty I'll be on any given day. Sometimes I'll down a half a gallon as quickly as it were beer. Today I sipped but I still managed to put away almost two gallons.

Near the South Dakota border is the bentonite plant. That's the big industry there. It's a huge place, industrial, with all sorts of trucks and trains. It is owned by Haliburton. Google "no-bid contract."

I stopped by their fence. They had a few trees, likely bought with your tax dollars. I had a can of weeners on hamburger buns. I was hoping I'd be arrested. I thought it would make a nice little vignette. But it is Sunday and even patriots get at least one day off.

Bentonite, I had to ask, is a sort of impure clay. Kitty litter. They sell it by the ton. It is used for all sorts of things. They put it in make-up and candy bars. They use it to cast iron engines. The pump it into oil wells to seal the gaps, when they remember to bother. It is the clay you see on fireworks and model rocket engines. We can't live without the stuff. Who knew.

There doesn't seem to be much sport involved in mining bentonite. Half the state is made of the stuff. They just sort of scoop it up and dump it in trucks. I guess the factory is for picking the bugs out of it.

I passed then into South Dakota. I still had plenty of power. Several people offered me rides which always cheers me somewhat. It is hard to explain myself, yelling across a highway, but it is nice there are people reluctant to see me die out here. The joke was on them; I felt fine. One gentleman, a construction magnate from
Alaska, gave me a big jug of water. I had my own but it is from the tap, and here not particularly quenching. It's all that bentonite.

On the radio, which I much enjoy, they said there is going to be a hellacious thunderstorm at midnight. Weather reports are always wrong. But I swear to golly, at eleven fifty-nine a wind came up and blammo. It is well past my bedtime but I may be up a while in spite of myself. And if I am struck down, know I had a pretty good day.

MY FEET do need some surgery. I like to do it before I sleep to let my wounds dry out overnight. But it's too dark and I'm too tired. I already ate a can of sardines using my headlamp. That was gory enough.
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Saturday, August 20, 2011

Day Eighty-Five, Living on the Edge

I did not sleep especially well. My tent was on a flat spot. I had to go over barbed wire to get there, but I thought it was worth the risk. But only the bit where I laid out my sack happened to be a bit lumpy. And an adenoidal cow somewhere very nearby kept bleating at me all night long.

Come the dawn, the cow turned into a sheep, or rather a thousand of them. Marching single file and with noisy complaint to somewhere beyond the horizon. They were every one afflicted with mange. They were bare as the day they were born. They looked like fat little sausages. I did not try to make friends.

Town was not, as I thought, a mere eight miles off. It was in fact closer to ten. Small matter, you'd think, but it got to me and rather upset my rhythm. I was moving at a respectable pace until I unearthed the deception. Then my pack got heavy and my feet started to hurt. I slowed to what felt like a crawl. It confirmed what I learned now too long ago about how my mood can affect my performance. I have to learn to fool myself to believe everything is sunshine and daisies.

There are daisies, by the way, lining the road, or perhaps they are little sunflowers. Or tulips or anemones. I know little of these things. Nor am I much moved by flowers in general. I would have traded them all for a tree. Because in addition to daisies there was sunshine, as well. More than I would have preferred. And bugs, mean little flies of a kind. They looked like the sort that might sting. I was feeling rather abused by the time I sighted Alzada.

It showed on the horizon as a patch of green trees from the top of a fairly high hill. I'd have called it a mountain but here it's known as a "ridge." That means it's much wider than it is tall. From up there you could see a good ways. Town was yet a good seven miles off and did not get closer as I walked.

I was happy a mile outside of town to meet my Iowa friends. They had spent the night in Belle Fourche. Their car was now fully repaired. I have since been informed that lugs will snap off if the lugs are not tightened enough. They had new tires put on for their trip. I think they should get a refund.

I am not certain why but I was worried about them. I guess because they are so pure. I am accustomed if not entitled to hardship. They, I think, deserve better. But they were back on the road and their spirits were high. They brought me a cinnamon roll. It was big and sticky and pleasingly sweet and it came with moistened towlettes. I ate it under a tree.

My first tree in a while. It was rather spindly There were cows looking on, lined up shoulder to shoulder. I didn't know if they liked cinnamon rolls or not, but there were so many of them I did not want to share. A few of them would inevitably be left out and I did not want to sew any discord.

I hit the saloon for my Coca Cola. I can't say I much loved the place. It is aimed at bikers, of which I am not one. Neither are most bikers these days. The floor is covered with sawdust. The barmaid was surly and tattooed. Very much so, in both instances. She showed contempt for that which I do. "F***ing around," she called it. That is not the case, I'll have her know. I am f***ing in more or less a straight line.

I thought of Thoreau, who I've been rereading. Some folks just do not understand. There is a value in contemplation. It brings forth your higher soul. Illiterate, Hank called them, among other things. I'll save my opinions for my book.

There are a number of observations which I am not wholly comfortable revealing here. My book, for example, will have a whole chapter on pooping, whereas here I've only mentioned it in passing.

Two chapters, maybe.

Of course old H.D. had little use for anyone who couldn't appreciate Homer in the Greek, so he wouldn't have liked me either. It's not easy being James. It never has been.

There are folks who think I am doing something heroic. They are wrong but I like them best. I am the first to admit that Walking Across America is an awfully silly thing to do. But a refusal to believe that it might mean something--anything--shows a lack of imagination. My walking is, as I see it, a work of performance art. It should inspire, or at least get you thinking. Frankly, I'd settle for laughs.

One day, I hope, I'll sit down at a desk and express all these thoughts a bit better. Or not. I'm not given to serious thought. I cannot resist a punchline. But that is my art, such as it is. Go make some art of your own.

I did, at the saloon, meet four travellers, from the antipodes. They were a bit older, retired I guess, and are touring the US in campers. Australians are among the peoples I most like to kid, but it was sure nice to have them around. I've spent the last twenty years amongst foreigners. You know, I miss them sometimes. Too many people think the edge of the world is right outside their own backdoor.

There is too a post office in Alzada, Montana. They're threatening to shut it down. And across from that is a gas station and grocery store, of sorts. That is where I've been for the last several hours. I am sort of stuck here in town. My next crossing will be forty miles. I'll need water after twenty or so. Or maybe not. But I don't want to risk it, and the sort of truck depot where I planned to refill my bottles will not be open tomorrow.

I hate having wasted half of this day, but a sailor must wait for the tides. Or teacher his student or the actor his role. The truck driver, his speed to kick in. Walking is a wholly inefficient way to cross the American continent. I do, though, really want to get moving. Winter is coming soon.

I did meet a nice fellow, Dale a rancher He had come down here to sell some hay. But the buyers never showed up so he cracked open a bottle of rye. A half hour later his friend happened by. He is employed by the federal government as a Wildlife Specialist. That means he flies around in a light plane and murders coyotes with a shotgun. Sounds like interesting work.

I am informed that the odd turkey sound I heard on the Cheyenne was not, as I suspected, coyotes. It was more likely foxes. Or turkeys, for all I know. I also learned that this country is just swimming with cougars. They are foul-tempered beasts. And here I am, smelling just like sardines and three flavors of Purina Cat Chow.

Less so now. I had a shower at the gas station, for which privilege I payed five dollars. I took the second longest shower of my until recently clean life and used up all kinds of shampoo. I am so clean you could eat off me, which would likely embarrass us both.

I am going to camp behind the gas station, rather than behind the saloon. It's a better vibe. They do have breakfast, and it is a quarter mile closer to the border.

THE NICE LADY from Iowa said I should contemplate God. Perhaps I already am. It's just that I'm not very good at it. Or I see Divinity in the wrong things.

IT WAS MY DISTINCT PLEASURE to meet Moonpie, up here from South Carolina. He is seventy years old with a Santa Claus beard, and is something of a free spirit, to say the least. He is cooking for a combine crew. I don't think he needed the work. He just wanted to see Montana, one hayfield at a time. He is a philosopher, a scholar, a philanthropist. He has done all sorts of things. For the hell of it or to see the world or to help out his fellow man. Walking Across America does not unduly impress him, but he thinks it is the Right Thing to Do.
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Day Eighty-Four, Hawkeyes

Good morning. Here I am. It is six thirty. I woke up at six o'clock. I caught the last bit of a beautiful sunrise. The sky was blue and clear. I thought about another hour of sleep, but that wouldn't do me much good. I slithered out of my bag from the top so I wouldn't have to zip it back up.

I glanced to the west as I gathered my gear. Lightning hit the next hill. Out of the blue, you understand. I thought it was kind of neat. But over the next two minutes the sky turned black and the gates of Hell were thrown open. So here I sit, trapped in my tent by as bad a thunderstorm as I have ever experienced. Best case, I walk with a soggy tent. Worst, my trip ends here.

Any lightning close enough to fry my circuitry will toast my computer as well. So there will be no goodbyes. You are better off. I haven't got that much to say. Peace.


The lightning lasted all of two minutes. Then it moved on to the north. It was glad at the chance to scare me a bit but I guess it had places to be. The rain stuck around for another hour. It was quite a good rain at that. Each big drop on the roof of my tent went POW like a rifle shot. It seeped in the corners and made pools on my floor. Packed up, my tent weighed a ton.

It has been my experience that these sudden summer storms occur in the late afternoon. Or the early evening when I take them as a sign that I might as well quit for the day. So this, let's hope, was a rarity, and I think a little unfair.

The rain was replaced by a 20 MPH wind, blowing from the southeast. Or precisely from the direction I'm headed. I had some idea of staying in my tent until it blew itself out. But it didn't, so neither did I. I was back on the road by eight-thirty.

It wasn't easy; just folding my tent took quite a lot out of me. And walking uphill with that wind on my chest used up whatever was left. I hiked three lousy miles then climbed down a ravine where I hoped I might wait it out. I made a fine breakfast of hamburger buns, slathered with aerosol cheese.

Now our international friends might not be familiar with aerosol cheese. Let me just briefly explain. It is like shaving foam, only it's cheese. It comes squirting out of a can. It is a bit pricey but so is regular cheese. If you're hungry enough it tastes fine. And it reminds you not to count America out. We invented all the best things.

The wind did not cease. The clouds were unworldly, swirls like something from Van Gogh. It was cold and I all but broke my neck climbing back up to the road. My next fifteen miles should count as thirty. It took all my strength to move. There were no special gusts, just a constant force pushing me back down the road.

Here and there the road would make a turn. For a minute the wind would die town. Then it would find me and start up again, hitting me square in the chest. Whichever direction I faced it came from straight ahead. It's enough to make a fellow suspicious.

I could never walk more than two or three miles before I was just worn out. And there weren't any really good places to rest. There are no trees out here, none. None. I did my best to climb into ditches or hide on the lee side of hills. But it didn't work; I was getting blasted no matter which way I turned. It was awfully chilly and for the first time in months I managed to sunburn my nose.

Six miles in I stopped in Hammond, Montana, hoping to refill my jugs. Hammond consists of a post office and... Hammond consists of a Post Office. Louise, a nice lady, the postmistress, gave me two gallons from her personal supply. It's a nice little post office, very well kept. They're threatening to shut it down. But it saved my life and I'm fond of it. Better to raise the price of stamps.

Of course now I was walking uphill, into the wind, with a very heavy pack. With the exception, perhaps, of Stevens Pass, it is the hardest walking I have done on this trip. But I had to put in some miles today. I was pretty much out of food. And water is scarce and it's lonesome out here. I've got to reach the next town.

Fifteen miles in, I found a culvert. This one was made of steel. I tried a repeat of yesterday's experiments but I just couldn't muster the strength. A little puddle had formed in the rocks at one end. I made friends with a frog. Actually I tickled him with a long piece of grass, trying to get him to jump this way and that. I think he thought I was annoying.

When I left the wind had died down to a more manageable ten miles per. And the sun had come out and warmed things a bit. I'm awfully glad that it did. A mile or two later I found a carload of Iowans, stuck on the side of the road. Three of their wheel lugs had broken off. I didn't even know that could happen.

I was hoping it would be something I could help them with. I want to be someone's hero. But the trouble is I don't have any tools. Or any mechanical skill. I can change a tire and repair a radiator using only a potato. And I think I can make an improvised fan belt out of duck tape and nylon stockings. But as it was all I could do was chat and distract them from their miseries. Outside of Death Valley, I don't think there is a worse place in America for your car to break down.

They were Darren and Marn from Storm Lake, Iowa, or not too far from there. They were with their three beautiful daughters and their rambunctious seven-year-old boy. They are delivering Grace, their oldest, a flower, to college somewhere near Great Falls. They are Christian and perfect, so polite and kind, it made me feel unclean.

Which I am, to some extent. I've lead an interesting life, and I have been a long time on the road. They were more help to me than I was to them. They gave me water and food. Cold water, a forgotten luxury, and pizza, of all marvelous things. In the end I had to abandon them. They prayed for me when I left.

I don't mean that vague promise to pray for me. I get that one almost every day. I mean right there and then, they prayed for me, the whole carload of them. On the roadside. It made me feel a little awkward, but they are wholly sincere. And awfully nice. I guess it can't hurt. It's not their fault that I'm without faith.

They did manage to get hold of a tow truck, at least. I was worried about that. Regular cell service seems to work, it is just the so-called 3G service, the one I rely on, which is useless. A few miles further down the road they passed me, riding on a flatbed truck. The whole family, still in their car, waving as they went by. It made me smile.

I also ran into Louise from the post office. It was great to see her again. She was with her husband; we chatted a bit. I got to meet Flossie, her dog. I doubt there are more than 100 people living on this whole stretch of road. And here I am on a first name basis with the leading citizens.

The sunshine, the pizza, the human contact, managed to buoy me somehow. Out of nowhere came my old four-mile pace. I hammered out eight more miles. For twenty-four, total. That's not a bad day. I am less than eight miles from town. And at the risk of jinxing myself, I believe I have conquered the longest, driest, lonesomest crossing of my trip.
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Day Eighty-Three, Musicality

It was another early morning, but I'm no hero. I really just had to pee. And traffic was noisy and I was not wholly satisfied with where I had set up my tent. There was a farmhouse just over a hill. I was afraid they'd set the dogs on me.

But even with the quick start today was a failure, one which may prove my undoing. I needed to walk a good twenty-two miles. I don't think I managed seventeen. I've got food but I'm going to be hungry tomorrow. The next day hungrier still. And thirsty, perhaps, and I can't help thinking that winter is well on its way.

It's not cold, not very, but the days are shorter. I've got to stop at eight-thirty or so. And even then I am grateful I've got my hat. You can see it best after dark. One day it will hang in the James museum, next to my first banjo.

I walked all of five miles or so before I took my first break. And it was a hell of a break; I sat there for hours, entertaining destructive thoughts. "Better not eat all my food," I'd think, and then I'd get hungry. I'd crack open another can. "Better ration my water," and that would give me a dryness in the throat. "Better get going," made my muscles sore and put me in the mood for a nap. Perhaps it's the only talent I've got, engineering failure.

And I was attacked by horrid little black snake, about the size of a pencil. He stared at me from a mere six feet away and tried to look into my soul. I turned away at just the right moment. Better luck next time, servant of Hell.

There was a bright note as I had climbed into a culvert to get out of the morning sun. It wasn't one of those ratty corrugated steel culverts but a big one made of concrete. It was about five feet in diameter and fairly clean inside. It had the most marvelous accoustics; I sang for a bit and at one point I happened to fart. You have never heard such pure tone. I tried mightily to fart again but I just couldn't get one primed. Farts, you see, are a lot like Love. It's as much about timing as will.

And good nutrition and steady breathing and an open and generous heart.

I was seriously considering a walk back to Broadus. I could refit and try this again. Instead I walked another three miles, ate more and took a long nap. In the tall grass under a cottonwood tree. The place was stinky with spiders. I am not, please note, the least bit afraid of spiders, but something about these made me wonder if I should be. They were yellow and black and sinister and big enough to eat a kitten.

When I left there I was low on water. I walked another couple of miles. Then I took another break in some more tall grass and drank up all that was left. That was just a little alarming. I sat there another hour and tried to think about other things.

Two miles later I found a ranch, not too too far from the road. I am a little bit cautious of guns and dogs but I made my way to the door. Their dog, a border collie or one of its kin, was chubby, deferential and shy. Their cat, however, was all over me. He noticed I smell of sardines. I was well received and they refilled my jugs as if left-coast hippies come banging on their door every day.

By then it was almost six o'clock and I had miles to go. That's why I wrapped up my next long break after half an hour or so. The sun was low and there's no shoulder at all. It's a pretty good way to get squished. But every small mile I put in today is a big one I don't have to do tomorrow.

My feet hurt, sure, and I may have mentioned that my shoes are falling apart. And the heavy pack had made my legs a bit sore and I'd been up all kinds of hills. And I do do better on proper food, not on this pitiful fare. But my failure today has more to do with a weakness in character.

I want to be more like Kwai Chang Caine. You never saw him eating at all. Of course all he had was that burlap purse and a flute to lug around. But you never got the sense he'd be napping under a tree when he had btter places to be.

I did learn one thing. I will not have enough water. If I don't find a friendly ranch I am going to run out before I hit the next town. Maybe I will accomplish great things tomorrow. Maybe I never will.

CHEERS TO the lovely Tia and Terri. Thank you for filling my jugs. Love the cat. Love the dog. Thanks for living where you do.
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