Friday, August 26, 2011

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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