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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