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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