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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