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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