Friday, September 30, 2011

Day One-Hundred-Twenty-Six, That'll Do, Pig

There are a number of mothers who worry about me. Not all of them are my own. I hope none of them are too awfully put out to learn that I have a cold. Another one, yes. I enjoyed a week of good health, or very nearly so. And a good healthy twenty-year run before that. Perhaps I was overdue.

So extend to me your sympathy but there is no cause for concern. I have a rather drippy nose. That never killed anyone. And what do you expect for Heaven's sake. I have been four months out of doors. Sweating and filthy, I eat in saloons. I live on society's fringe. Bugs crawl on me. I poop in the bush. It's no life for a gentleman.

Not one of my fragility. I am a delicate flower. A hothouse orchid. A china doll. It's easy to hurt my feelings. I need to be cared for like a princess. I like marshmallows in my cocoa. The great big ones, you understand. The little ones melt too fast.

But before anyone organises a cocoa party, I can in fact do without. All I've got is a runny nose and a slightly upset stomach. I'd rather be in bed at home, but that's almost always the case. A little suffering will make me strong and take my mind off my heartache.

It will be in the thirties tonight. I do manage to stay warm. I've got a hat that ties under my chin and a new pair of furry pants. And a good heavy shirt and two pairs of socks. My hands are just a bit cold. But only because I'm typing this nonsense. A man suffers for his art.

It's the morning I'm not looking forward to; my tentpoles sap my strength. They are blasted cold and my tent will be wet. There are all kinds of clips and zippers. And every one of them hurts my fingers. It cannot be done in gloves. I've suffered much worse otherwise, but it's just such a pain in the ass.

That said, I did have a fairly good day. I put in twenty-two miles. And maybe two more hiking this way and that, looking for good things to eat. I should look upon my wooze as a good way to save money on food, but feed a cold, they say. And there's always this business of getting recharged. The brave pioneers had it easy.

I debated long ago a solar recharger, but I wasn't sure it would work. And it cost rather much and it would by now be smashed into all sorts of bits. My poor backpack has a rather rough life. I think it will last the trip. But then it goes into storage until we raise enough funds to open the James Museum.

"His actual backpack. Ooh. Ahh." We'll sell replicas in the gift shop. And James T-shirts and picture post cards. I think it will pay for itself. The real money will come when we open the theme park.

You Must Be At Least This Tall to Ride the Wild James.

Seven not wholly unpleasant miles took me to Coon Rapids, Iowa. I probably would have enjoyed it more if I wasn't so terribly hungry. It's the pizza I had last night. Pizza never fills me up. Pizza and bananas, I don't know why. They are two foods that make me hungry. Beer, too, gives me a powerful thirst. Love always makes me lonely.

I was disappointed with Coon Rapids on a number of counts. To begin with, it was well off my highway. You'd think they'd have the decency to put themselves in my path. And, while no one was really mean to me, they weren't all that friendly, either. As if somehow it was this traveller's fault that they live in Coon Rapids, Iowa.

It is a town of some 1200 people, with not much to show for it. Their one restaurant was a sandwich shop. I could have been better impressed. It was better than Subway, that's all I can say, but Subway, as we all know, sucks.

I have made a lifetime study of sandwiches and, while I don't expect anyone to come up to my level, it really isn't that hard. My friend Elsie made me a sandwich the other day and it was fantastic. But you don't see her opening her own sandwich shop. Not yet. She's content to be twelve.

And they had some cartoon for three-year-olds blaring on the TV. Like Barney, but squeakier. There wasn't a kid in sight. The walls were a tribute to their high school teams, covered with old uniforms. I hope they washed them, was all I could think. It was like eating in a locker room.

I did, I think, get some clue as to why I have good days and bad. My best walking days are the ones where every couple of hours I meet someone who's nice to me. I need that positive energy. I'm sorry; I guess I'm just weak. Kwai Chang Caine walked all over hell and everyone treated him rotten. But he was a lot more centered than me. He had better teachers.

From there I hiked to Bayard Iowa. I liked it much better. It's a much smaller town but friendlier. I walked into Shack's, a bar. But not a bar. It's a restaurant. You can buy it. It's for sale. One-hundred grand, or quite a bit less, depending on how much they like you. You get a big old building in the center of town and a stream of steady customers. A number of whom are cribbage players. They can be trouble but still.

It didn't seem like they were very glad to see me, but I was soon befriended by Marilyn, the boss. She made for me her famous pork sandwich. We're getting into pig country now. I've been eating sausage, it's easy to forget, but as a rule I don't eat pork. This stems not from any religious conviction but from a fine documentary I once saw.

It was about this baby piglet who lost his mama and was adopted by a quiet but good-hearted farmer who taught him how to herd sheep and he was really good at herding sheep even though he was just a little pig and in the end he won a sheep herding contest and everyone was really impressed even the old dog who didn't like him very much at first and the farmer's wife who wanted to eat him but then didn't.

It was a fine sandwich, I'm inclined to believe. They're popular around here. Truth is my stuffly nose had by then made it impossible to taste anything. It chewed up pretty well. I said it was delicious but I was just guessing. I'll come have another one day.

I did enjoy talking to the folks there. I did learn something interesting. This RAGBRAI, the famous bike ride across Iowa with its tens of thousands of participants, is maybe a bit different than I imagined. I thought it was a bunch of stuck-up jerks in garish jerseys and foo-foo shorts who never say hi to anyone. No. It's a bunch of drunken maniacs riding from bar to bar, causing trouble wherever they go.

"It's like the Hell's Angels rolling into town." Those are in fact my words, but I thought it would be more effective as a quote.

Golf, fishing; even hunting, I'm afraid. It's all about drinking beer. Hey, remember that time Dick Cheney got drunk and shot that old man in the face? Good. Never forget.

I learned too that yesterday was a bad day for harvesting. Poor Billy Bergman got sand in his eye and there were something like seven big fires in the state. I guess all combines, especially the older, gas-powered ones, spit out sparks from time to time. Usually the farmer will just climb down and stomp them out. But yesterday, with the big wind, these fires got out of control. The state finally put a ban on harvesting until the wind died down.

Today was better, or so I'd suppose. Damn cold now, however. Thank you again for tuning in. I bid you a good night.

"That'll do, pig" means "I love you." Not enough people got that.
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Thursday, September 29, 2011

Day One-Hundred-Twenty-Five, Blow

I managed twenty-five miles today, maybe more or not too much less. It was a good solid day in either case, and goes to show you never can tell. My feet were as sore as yesterday, my legs as rubbery. I took I think as many breaks but somehow I burned up the miles. It is I guess one of Life's Mysteries. It is not for me to ask why.

I was camped not far from a windmill, maybe one-hundred yards off. And as I went to sleep it wasn't so noisy. Because it was barely moving at all. But as I slept the wind picked up and the thing really started to roar. It wasn't too bad but it sounded very much like a passenger jet flying by.

And by and by and by and by. That was disconcerting. It gave me that sense of dissatisfaction you get from a stifled sneeze. Or when you hear the angry screech of tires and not the inevitable crash. It did get me thinking, about airplanes of course. They're much quieter than they used to be. But I wondered if the sound I've been blaming on engines is at least as much made by the wings.

There's a metaphor in there; I'm certain of it. It's yours if you find it first.

My little computer promised blue skies. It soon after started to rain. I'm never sure who to believe in these cases, the weatherman or my own eyes. I used to, on sunny days, ride my motorcycle to work. It was not unusual for me to show up sopping wet. Just out my window it would be raining, but the weatherman said it was not. He knows better than I do, I'd think, and off I'd go into the storm.

There's a Life's Lesson there; I'm certain of it. It's yours if you find it first.

It never did rain hard but I was concerned. I've got to keep an eye on these things. I do have a raincoat, and a cover for my pack, but I hate to dig them out. But if I wait too long they do little good. Too soon and I get myself sweaty. I've got a minute or so to make that decision. I like to debate these things. But the rain had just about stopped when I got to Maple River Junction.

There was an odd little farm on the edge of town, rather an untidy place. But interesting. There were chickens and geese of every shape and color. And tiny little horses with matted manes and a number of pot-bellied pigs. And some dogs and a goat or two. The fences were not very good. They could have escaped whenever they wanted. They stayed because it was home.

I bellied up at Little Gus's, the only shop in town. It is a bar but at ten a.m. everyone was drinking coffee. The nice lady treated me to a cup or two and a couple of cans of Coke. It was too a museum of taxidermy. It was nonetheless cozy in there. The people were friendly; I could have stayed forever. Instead I climbed back on the trail.

And hike another five miles to Carroll, a town of more than ten thousand. Which I never would have guessed, the way I came in, I guess through the back door. I asked a grumpy man at a tractor shop where I could get myself fed. "There's a Denny's three blocks up." I was hoping for something better.

Denny's, for our international friends, is a nationwide chain of restaurants. They have them too in Japan. They're clean and cheap, the food is good but unforgivably bland. I wanted something more soulful, more grease on my fried potatoes. And was pleased to find it was not "a" Denny's, but merely Denny's, no relation. Unless this one humble little cafe is the one that spawned the chain.

I had the special, roast beef and mashed potatoes and a few overcooked green peas. And a piece of pumpkin pie. The mashed potatoes were good. "They're instant," I later heard someone complain. Just like Mom used to make.

I quite like mashed potatoes, instant and otherwise. In the future when I'm really rich, I'm not going to eat anything but mashed potatoes. Breakfast, lunch and dinner, mashed potatoes. I'll have mashed potatoes for snacks. I'll have grand banquets for the finest folk and serve nothing but mashed potatoes.

[I am surrounded by someone or other, possibly raccoons. Now they are brawling amongst themselves. I'd just as soon not get involved. Raccoons, as a rule, do not attack, but they ain't scared of you either.]

I overheard some people at a neighboring table reminiscing about the various homeless people they have seen over the years. The were not directing this talk at me, but it was clear that something about my presence had introduced the topic. I made my way to a barber.

It was my intention to keep my long beard, to just trim it up a little. But the lady with the scissors would not hear of it. She was buxom and flattering. Any one of those things could have swung the debate. She pruned it down to almost nothing. And told me I was handsome. I gave her a tip.

I have some regrets; I liked my beard. But it had become a burden. I'd had to spend twenty minutes every morning combing the knots out of it. And it can get ugly, as on nights like tonight when my nose is running just like a faucet. Or when I sip soda, or when I eat soup or try to make a good first impression. I'm better of without it, I guess. I should have gathered up the bits. They could have had a place in the James Museum, right next to my baby teeth.

The wind by now was picking up, and up to forty miles an hour. Which is not enough to knock me off my feet, but enough to make me stumble and fall. It is harvest time; many fields are bare. There's a lot of dust in the air. And bits of corn and tumble weeds. I don't know where they come from.

I was soon headed down a more minor road, southbound once again. It took me to Willey, Iowa. I could see it from miles away. Across the cornfields, over steep rolling hills and through the thick dust in the air. Visible first was the tall steeple of their Catholic church. In the haze it looked like a castle. I felt nothing like a knight. Maybe a jester of sorts who tells jokes, until they lop off his head.

Beyond the church there was nothing in Willey. A feed lot and some kind of factory. And a dozen small houses and two enormous ones, maybe six-thousand square feet each. Right across the street from each other, the two richest men in town. I couldn't guess who they are trying to impress. Each other, one supposes.

There was nothing for me there. I was hungry again. I continued on to Deadham. Up and down hills in the howling wind, I was just a little bit tired. But not as worn out as I was yesterday, and I had come a lot more miles. Still I was happy to get to town. I needed me a snack.

No joy. The restaurant had closed, some three weeks before. I made my way to the one saloon and ordered a frozen pizza.

And fourteen Cokes. The pizza was good. They've really improved the technology. And they had Tabasco on hand. I think that makes all the difference. I sat down and ate the whole blasted thing. I could have stopped halfway. But there were three or four pieces still taunting me. I could not shrink from their challenge.

I got to talking to the fellows there. A few had seen me out on the road. It was good to be off my feet and I liked the mood of the place. Six-thirty is a good time in a small town bar. No one was really drunk. But they'd all had enough to make them friendly. I enjoyed talking to them.

Too much, it turned out. I overstayed. I was there until well after seven. Which left me very little daylight to turn down 141 and find a place for my tent. It got dark and I gave up. I will sleep right next to the highway. They'll be able to see me when the sun comes up. I hope nobody complains.

It is cold tonight but not too. I'm warm in my new furry pants. Tomorrow is meant to be nasty but I've got layers to add. But south is the watchword, south, south, to where the sun always shines. This cold does not wholly appeal to me. I'm running out of snot.

Excuse me.
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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Day One-Hundred-Twenty-Four, Southbound

I was longer on the road than I was yesterday. I managed just about the same distance. Sixteen, maybe seventeen miles. I am frankly ashamed of myself. My soles were sore and my legs were weak. My pack felt unusually heavy. I found myself looking forward to sundown, and an excuse to put up my tent.

The day started fine. I was up at seven. I was sleepy but I'd slept enough. I struggled to find the energy to pack up my gear, but I was sure I'd have a fine day of walking. But these things are hard to predict. I never know what will happen. Some days I just thunder up the road. Other days are better suited to sitting.

My first three or four miles were not too too bad. I arrived in Lake View, Iowa. Where I sat on a corner for ten or twelve minutes to wait for my friend Maren. She had made me some new business cards. My supply has dwindled some. I pass them out along the road. The give me legitimacy.

Or the suggestion of it. At any rate they distinguish me from the other hobos. And distract policemen and promote my blog and get me discounts at motels. Sometimes. I feel rather naked without them. I thank her for taking the time.

It is getting to be overwhelming, really, these kindnesses of the Smiths. When I think of all they have done for me I feel like a mean little dog. It seems the least I can do to be Born Again, but that is sort of a stretch. I didn't even add my Amen when they said grace. It would be a hypocrisy. I don't feel it; I am quite without Faith. It seems disrespectful. Sorry.

I did promise to reread my Bible. That doesn't seem too much to ask. I've read Moby Dick a half-dozen times, footnotes and commentary. A little biblical knowledge won't do me much harm. There are times when it does come in handy. Even if I do go unsaved I'll be better at Jeopardy.

It was my honor to be Mrs. Smith's guest for breakfast. I ate with my usual vigor. And enjoyed what I guess is our last chance to talk before I darken their door again. I don't know for certain when that will be, but I do have an interest now. It is nice to have friends in Iowa. I bet you wish you did too.

Lake View, by the way, is a nice little town. I was much impressed. It has maybe thirteen-hundred people and a number of tidy homes. Everyone I met there was nice to me. An old man laughed at my beard. He gave me something of a hard time, but it was nice that he got the joke.

They've spent some money making things pretty. There are flowers and trees and lawns. And park benches. The laudromat is upholstered in green carpet. There's a good cafe and a grocery store. The lake sits east of town. Black Hawk Lake, I think it is called. It contrasts nicely with the corn.

Like a lot of lakes it is surrounded with homes. I wouldn't mind living in one. Perhaps not for the rest of my life, but it sure seems a comfortable spot. I like water skiing, or I once did. I could take up ice fishing. Or just watch the water and admire the trees and enjoy life in Iowa. I really liked the vibe of the place, to employ that outmoded expression.

I was further delighted to find the Sauk Rail Trail, the Sauk Bluebird Trail in spots. And not quite arbitrarily; I did see some birds that were blue. Not close enough to describe them to you, but they were no bird I've ever seen. They may have been jays, but I could not tell you. Look it up or ask a bird geek.

I was in the mood to find a trail. The highways were wearing me out. They are too well travelled, the gravel's too thick, there aren't enough places to camp. And I still had pretensions of walking today, of putting in some real miles. And as an unimaginable luxury, the Sauk Rail Trail is paved.

I talked with a nice bicycle lady (recumbant, my theory stands). She said it cost $1,000,000 to build this one sidewalk. I don't doubt it cost even more than that. Concrete does not come cheap. Thirty-three miles, smooth enough for skates. It will take me all the way to Carroll. And through some beautiful countryside, now very much showing the season. The snakes are sluggish, the leaves are changing, there's harvesting being done.

I got an encouraging note from Billy, youth pastor, baby brother of Maren. He's putting in some very long days to get the corn in on time. He's pleased with the weather, but he's a positive guy. He'd be just as happy with rain. It was in fact rather warm today. A bank sign said eighty-three. And I think too it was fairly humid, which may go some distance towards explaining my sluggishness.

I sort of felt like I should have hung back, to help the Bergmans with their harvest. But they know what they're doing. I'd just be in the way. I don't know how to run a combine. At least their trailers are easy to hook up, unlike those few poor saps who have yet to invest in an Agri Speed Hitch.

What're you waiting for, by the way. It's an investment that pays for itself. Order your own Agri Speed Hitch today. Tell 'em James sent you.

There is something very real, if that makes sense, about harvesting. It is nice to see where food comes from. I don't want to see them slaughter a cow. Or milk one, if the truth be told. It all seems so indelicate. But harvest time seems kind of fun. You can feel it in the air.

When I lived in Japan I eagerly volunteered to participate in a rice harvest, but I backed out when I learned there'd be snakes. They thought I was just being lazy, but I swear that wasn't it. I would have been paid with a big bag of rice. I thought that would have been neat. I would have felt sort of proud of myself, every time I ate curry.

I am less frightened of snakes than I once was, but I don't like them any better.

My trail took me through one little town. I do not remember the name. There was nothing there but a closed saloon and a hardware store/post office. And a used speed boat lot, of all wonderful things. Alas, I am not in the market. Nor did I buy pop from their vending machine. They wanted a buck twenty-five.

I once took an exotic vacation on a tiny Pacific island not Hawaii, and in the honor fridge in my room the Cokes were going for five dollars. I had money then and mine is a generous nature, but I tell you, I was pissed off. I found the very implication that I might pay five bucks for a can of pop personally insulting. It was like they were calling me a bitch.

My apologies to my good Christian friends. I am compelled to express myself.

The next little town began with a B. I am not holding back its name. It just does not occur to me. I believe it ended in a vowel. I stopped there at the saloon for my dinner. Red's, I think it was called. All they had were things deep fried. It didn't do me much good. Nice place, though. Red was kind. They are auctioning a shotgun for charity. I debated whether to purchase a ticket, but I was afraid I might win.

From there I did not get far. Find me now on the edge of my trail. Camped amongst the blades of another wind farm. I am close enough to one of these monsters to hear its roar. It is something like the sound of the ocean. Which can be a good deal louder than many midwesterners may even suspect.

But not unpleasant. Until a bearing gives out. Then I bet it would crack your skull. Anyway, goodnight. I'll try to do better tomorrow.

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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Day One-Hundred-Twenty-Three, Leaving Home

I woke up at seven-thirty, just in time to say goodbye to Darren. He works hard; he has to; he's got four kids. I don't think he needs one more. Not one who eats as much as I do, at least. I had to get back on the road. Though it was not easy. I liked being a Smith. Most families have their black sheep.

I know mine does.

Of course I did not bolt right out of the door. First I had a big breakfast. And played with the dog and counted the cats and shot BB guns out in yard. And admired the house and wrassled with Wyatt and had a nice talk with Maren. Who made sure I had gloves and repaired my split pants and stuffed my backpack full of snacks. And who did not threaten to pray for my soul, though I'm pretty sure that she will.

And has.

I don't very much care for long goodbyes, or short ones, for that matter. But they are rarely a burden to me. I make very few attachments. I'd say it's because I'm soured on all mankind, and there's some truth in that. But it has as much to do with the fact that I'm shy around people. I'm not good at making friends. So those few I have I intend to hang onto.

Even the Republicans.

There will come a day, I've stated as much, many long years from now, when there will come a knock on my door. I don't know where I'll be living. A bearded stranger will growl at me. "I'm Wyatt," he's going to say. And I'm going to make him call his mother before he falls asleep on my couch.

Or drinks up all my good beer.

Back on the road my feet were sore. It happens to me every time. I rest my muscles but my soles grow soft. Hot showers and easy living. I'll toughen 'em up but it reveals a truth. One that most of you know. Walking Across America is a grand adventure. But not Walking Across America is nice, too.

In that way it's like Being in Love.

I trudged on for three or four miles. Distances are tricky here. After an hour I turned around. The Smith compound was right there. Smaller perhaps but easy to see. I was tempted to walk right back. Why not, I thought. I can live in the barn. I know how to do small repairs. I can teach the boy to speak Japanese. I could help with the dishes. I would go to church and meet a nice girl.

I'd become a Vikings fan.

Instead I shot down a gravel road. I did not consult my map. In Iowa the roads are a mile apart. They run east/west and north/south. Some don't go through but most of them do. It is pretty hard to get lost. The major highways can be a bit tricky, but the gravel roads are easy. But they're hard on my feet and when a car does pass you inhale a lot of dust. And a few farmers looked more than once at me, like I was some kind of weirdo. And a St. Bernard nearly beat me to death with his friendly thumping tail.

I sawtoothed my way to 175 and the small town of Odebolt. Which Mrs. Smith said was named when some unhappy Swede discovered what was wrong with his wagon. Which I don't think should reflect too poorly on her. I just want to show she's not perfect.

Odebolt sits at an angle between highways and seems neat enough. I did not fall in love with the place. I nodded to a biker who did not nod back. A woman gave me directions. But she looked me over from head to toe with a look of shock and disgust. The girl at the gas station was fairly kind, but by that time I'd formed my opinion. The Smiths are nicer than most Iowans, whether they know it or not. I'd done got spoiled. I started thinking I'd be greeted like a beloved uncle everywhere I went.

I did not linger in Odebolt.

From there it was east. I am still unhappy with the way they make their roads. The shoulders are covered with sharp gravel, heaped up a bit too thick. There has for years now been an annual bicycle ride across Iowa. RAGBRAI, look it up. But it draws tens of thousands of participants. They can ride in the street. But the shoulders seem to have been designed to keep the hobos out.

"Hobo!" I was recently called. Rotten little brat.

Between cars I can walk on the pavement, but I certainly cannot relax. I am as likely to be struck down dead from behind, by some idiot who just has to pass.

Back when I drove I enjoyed passing. I really liked driving fast. But I was an idiot and so are you. You have my life in your hands. And I remember every car that almost kills me, on the off chance I'll see it again in the next town. It ain't happened yet but I do entertain a particular revenge fantasy. I hope the poor fellow whose nose I bloody understands that he is but the unfortunate stand-in for every idiot driver I have met so far.

If he's too big I'll wait for the next one. Somebody has to pay.

I know too that there are a number of otherwise good people who think it is just fine to jibber on their cell phones while they drive. It isn't. Knock it off.

"But... but..." I don't want to hear it. Do as I say. Knock it off.

I stopped three or four miles short of Lake View, Iowa. That was just sixteen miles for the day. Not too too bad for how late I started. Twenty would have been better still. But, though it is harder in Iowa, I did find a great place to camp. I am in a sort of gravel pit, amongst some rusty truck parts. Someone might come and yell at me, but probably not until morning. And probably not even then. I am well out of everyone's way.

THANK YOU again to the good Smiths, their friends and extended family. It is a good thing everyone's watching me or I might get downright mushy.

MY LITTLE RADIO is dead. I quite liked it while it lasted. But I've now got a dozen new audio book Mp3s. Charles Dickens rocks.
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Day One-Hundred-Twenty-Two, American Genius

1) Saying goodbye to Darren, two mornings in a row.
2) With Uncle Billy and Wyatt, who is a pill.
3) With Mr. Bergman, who looks less like Shatner in profile.

I had meant to abandon the family Smith, for their good as much as my own.  But I lingered and dragged my feet.  I passed another day as their guest.  And I am better for it, I have no doubt.  And I am sure they'll survive the intrusion.  They've got a sound moral base that cannot be corrupted by an odd hippie here and there.

It was in the morning threatening to rain.  That will take the fun out of a walk.  So I had a fine breakfast and played with the dog, and Wyatt, who is a pill.  We even did some math together.  The young Smiths are home-schooled.  He is working on a rudimentary algebra.  He is all of seven years old.

It has not yet enthralled him to any degree.  You can't say he loves the sport.  I did what I could but it took Mom's efforts to get him to do the work.  I'm not certain I wouldn't home-school my own kids, but to do it right takes more effort than you can imagine.  You can't get lazy, not even once.  And it can be like pulling teeth.  Marne (or Good Mrs. Smith) does stay on top of things.  I admire her effort but don't envy it.  I'd want a whip and a chair.

Good Mr. Smith was off at work.  He is in the grain bin business.  Let me know if you are in the market.  I am sure he can get you a deal.  But there are no bonbons being chewed up at home.  The soap operas go unwatched.  Four healthy kids will keep you busy.  I don't care who you are.

I'll introduce them, if I may.  Grace is off at school.  And making us proud.  I owe her a debt.  If they hadn't been delivering her to college, their wheel would not have fallen off in Montana and I never would have made these new friends.  Thank you, Miss Grace.  Now study.

Then there is Anna.  She is sixteen.  She's the only one I fear.  She's a very pretty sixteen-year-old girl.  I know how unkind they can be.  Now of course Anna has been raised right, and is prisoner to her own gentle nature.  But just knowing that she is sixteen is enough to keep me on my toes.

Elsie is twelve.  She has dimples.  I have arbitrarily made her my favorite.  She is very strong for a twelve-year-old.  And looks you in the eye when you talk.  And I see in her the signs of genius, or gentle madness, or both. One day she'll run for President.  Please give her your vote.

Then there is Wyatt, who is seven, of course.  He is a pill.  I like him.

Darren and Marne, Mr. and Mrs., keep 'em all growing up right.  And they are, though morally upright, more cool than they'd admit.  Or know, at any rate.  Cooler than me, at least.

We did in the afternoon go to visit Marne's father, Mr. Bergman.  He looks like William Shatner.  His is the house with the trampoline.  He wasn't home yesterday.  His kind-hearted wife made us all pizza.  There was me and Marne and the kids.  And her younger brother, Billy Bergman, youth pastor and trampoline champ.

You should have seen this fellow bounce.  He is twenty-nine years old.  But as a rule he hangs out with teenagers.  It gives him a youthful glow.  And the laws of physics don't apply to him.  He's half monkey/half helium balloon.  And perpetually cheerful.  He radiates goodness and makes you want to be better than you are.

Maybe I am better than I am.  Or better than I thought I was.  I'll have to explore that in later days, when I am not among the Pure of Heart.  I am not sure whether the Smiths amplify my goodness or overwhelm it.

Or create it out of whole cloth.

Mom, Grandma, Mrs. Bergman, was very nice to me.  She new the details of my adventure.  The good woman's been reading my blog.  And had kind concerns about my comfort and safety.  It makes me blush but it's nice.  And, it bears mentioning, she does put together a truly spectacular pizza.

A lot of people think they can make pizza at home.  A lot of people are wrong.  But Good Mrs. Bergman does have the gift.  Man, that pizza was good.  And I very much appreciated the way she bullied me into eating as much as I wanted to but was afraid to admit.  Thank you!

Now Mr. Bergman should get his own essay.  This man is a hero of mine.  It takes a certain kind of man to let his boys dig a trampoline pit in the basement.  It took them three years, by the way.  Some credit does go to them.  But they inherited that odd dedication from somewhere.  Cheers to the whole happy family.

What particularly impressed me about Mr. Bergman is that he is an inventor.  He invented the Agri Speed Hitch, which lets you hook things up to your tractor without the danger and difficulty of standing in the mud, hoisting and setting pins.  Big deal, you say, city boy, so what, so what, so what.

Here's so what, smart guy.  His innovation, over the course of a year, saves tens of thousands of man hours and prevents countless injuries, minor and horrific.  His efforts, without question, have made the world a better place.  And in no vague way.  It is quantifiable.  Families are happier, the economy is stronger, people are better fed.  Farmers have more energy.  Their fingers go unsquashed.  And it all started in his barn.  An American innovation.  One young man with a welder, a bold idea and a dream.  Edison, Fulton, Alexander Graham.  Walt Disney and Steve Jobs.  He is in that class.  Not famous, perhaps.  But he should be.

And he was nice to me.  I felt kind of unworthy.  I have not yet made my mark.  But I'm not giving up.  I'll figure it out.  Someday.  Someday, perhaps.

I will tomorrow be back on the road.  One pill of a son is enough.  The Smiths are about exactly my own age.  I don't think they want to adopt me.  But with some bit of my heart I wish they would.  I rather like it here.  But I was the one who signed up for this nonsense.  Tomorrow I promise to walk.

A LOT OF MEN would be content just to look like Shatner, and never do anything else.

CHEERS, TOO, to Andrew, family friend.  I value comic genius.  Boy oughta be on SNL, I tell you what.

Monday, September 26, 2011

PHOTOS, Down on the Farm II

The best picture I have ever taken.

PHOTOS, Down on the Farm

Day One-Hundred-Twenty-One, Bounce

I enjoyed another fine day as a guest of the Smiths, Iowa's favorite family.  They stuffed me with bacon and dragged me to church.  They thought it might do me some good.  In point of fact I was given an option.  Miss Maren said I could stay home.  But all of their goodness had gone done rubbed off.  I found a place in the pews.

It weren't so bad; I was nervous at first.  Not least about my condition.  I am, as has been stated, looking shaggy these days.  More like Christ than His followers.  Of course Back in the Day, long hair was good.  Long hair made you distinguished.  But now it as likely makes you a thug.  An object of healthy suspicion.

But the Arthur Evangelical Free Church ain't so horribly formal.  I'm not sure I saw one necktie.  The girls were pretty but they'd probably dress up no matter where they were going.  I don't guess I was the scruffiest one there, but not by a country mile.

I did have some small trepidation.  I was worried they would pray for me.  I will not specifically object to that.  I need all the Help I can get.  But I did have vague visions of mad Iowans crowding around me in a tight circle and shouting "Sinner! Sinner!", casting out my demons and such.  Instead everyone was just kind of nice.  Not such an awful thing.

Miss Elsie, youngest daughter of the proud Smith clan, was up there singing on stage.  I couldn't help but feel a brotherly pride at being in so tight with the choir.  Overall though, the music on offer was about as soulful and stirring as one might expect from a gaggle of Iowans.  Hymns were all but whispered.  No booming baritones here.  I guess to get that full-on Spirit-of-the-Lord blast of purely Joyful Noise you really have to go to a black church.  I imagine I would feel the tiniest bit out of place there, as well.

The sermon, such as it was, was not too much brimstone and fire.  The point was that we should not quarrel and that we should be nice to each other.  Cool.  I can dig it.  I like it when people are nice to me.

Which the Good Smiths have been, above and beyond.  I was less welcome in my own home growing up.  Mrs. Smith is a marvelous cook.  Mr. Smith can do some grilling.  The Smith Girls are wonderful bakers.  Boy Wyatt is a pill.

Which does not put him anywhere beyond redemption.  I can be a pill myself.  And it goes a long way to humanise a family that at first glance seems too good for words.  And they have a pet mouse named Turd.  They are human, after all.  And Mrs. Smith cheats when she plays games with the kids in the Christian Youth Group.

"Not really," she would tell you.  "Not very much, at least."  And her overall ambitions are good.  Still, it does make me laugh.  And I tend to believe Jesus would laugh, as well, when He told the story at parties.

After church I excused myself long enough to walk the three and a half miles I owed my journey.  They had come and got me the night before.  I was feeling guilty about it.  I covered that distance without my pack.  I didn't feel guilty about that at all.  It was a lovely fall day and the sky was blue.  There were corn combines to watch.  And it is a blessing to at last be off Highway 20.  I had the road to myself.

I arrivedat the house to a fabulous lunch of "steak or hamburgers or both."  Mr. Smith and I went with both.  I thought it was a nice compromise.  And there was spinach and cookies and such.  I got myself very well fed.  And watched the Vikings blow a twenty-point lead.  Mr. Smith is a fan.  Apparently they do this all the time.  That is what keeps him humble.

Because he could brag if he wanted to.  He has a nice family and home.  They live in a lovely old farm house, now separate from the farm.  It has all the advantages of country living with none of the plowing to do.  And they have an old barn--properly, a corn crib--that I am very fond of indeed.  It is barn-shaped with a cupola.  I wish I could make it my studio.

Over lunch I was pleased to make the acquaintance of Brian and Jenny, the Smiths good neighbors and friends.  I must say I was thrilled to meet them.  They are to me celebrities.  For no good reason, I am afraid.  They have the dubious distinction of having had their house and outbuildings destroyed by a tornado. 

I pestered them with all manner of questions. I guess I should have been more sensitive.  Brian had built it with his own two hands as a gift for his loving bride.  At the time she was in Florida.  He was hiding under the porch.  "Did you think you were going to die?" I asked him.  "I didn't know," he said.

It all strikes me as horribly romantic.  Better it should happen to newlyweds.  Life's tragedies are easier when you have someone to hug. 

That's in the abstract, of course.  The photos are less romantic.  Barns destroyed, trees ripped out, a tractor-trailer on its side..  We were all thrilled to look at the pictures.  Brian looked just a bit pale.  And he's a big guy, no sissy at all.  But I guess that he's been scared once.

In the evening we visited Grandpa's house.  Grandpa maitains a farm.  With all kinds of neat tractors and combines and such.  But, I swear, that's just the beginning.  There is in his basement a trampoline, concealed in a deep round pit.  It can be covered with carpeting.  It's like something out of James Bond.  Press a button and you fall from sight.  But in this case you bounce right back.

I had a go for a minute or so.  I am not sure I have ever felt so old.  Or heavy, at least.  And ungraceful.  Trampolining is hard.  But good fun, I swear to golly.  Perhaps easier with nobody watching.  It is hard to maintain your dignity when you are being flung this way and that.

In a perfect world, everyone would have a secret trampoline in their basement. 

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Sunday, September 25, 2011

Day One-Hundred-Twenty, Mr. & Mrs. Smith. And the Little Smiths.

Find me now in a warm soft bed, guest of the good Smith family. I enjoyed a fine dinner of meat and potatoes and a big piece of cake for dessert. With strawberries. Outside it is meant to dip well into the thirties. I couldn't have picked a nicer night to have friends in Iowa.

It is late, though. We stayed up talking. Tomorrow we go to church. I don't know when I've looked scruffier. I will shock the congregation. Though not by my manner; I am always polite. And it should be interesting. I ain't real religious myself. And that's understating things.

I was on the road by eight-thirty. That's not too awfully bad. I could have started walking hours before. I'd had an awful dream. Too awful, perhaps, to recount here. It sat me up in my bed. Only the warmth of my new fleece pants convinced me to go back to sleep.

Gosh, they're nice. They're just a bit bulky. They're kind of a trick to pack. But worth the effort; I'm certain of it. They let me laugh at the cold. From the waist down, at any rate. I'm warm up top as well. And wear a warm stocking cap that covers my ears and fastens under my chin. Only my face remains exposed, though less so than you might imagine. With some wriggling I can zip my good bag right up over my head.

It gets a little hard to breath in there, but that just helps me sleep. And it does get moist but that's a small price to pay to retain my most vital warmth. And when my dreams are light it is easy to imagine that I am zippered up inside my pack. Like a papoose or a very old woman on her way to Ubasuteyama.

I woke again at seven-thirty. That means a soggy tent. I can no longer leave my vents open. I had better get used to it. And my tentpoles were unspeakably cold. I should invest in some mittens. Or gloves, at least. I've been hesitant. I know they won't last long. I have a fine habit of losing the things. I've never owned a pair for more than a week.

I do find gloves from time to time, along the edge of the road. But I never think to pick them up for fear they contain a hand. I've seen trunks, too, treasure chests. You'd think they were full of gold coins. But I do not try to open them. I am sure there is death within.

A good ten or more miles took me to town, Holstein, Iowa. And another mile on top of that. It is some distance off the road. I had my burger in the local cafe. My waitress was brusque and grumpy. Not just to me, to everyone. It was noon and the place was crowded. I took a place in the corner and watched the folk, Iowans at play.

Football was the topic at hand. They seem to revere the game. "Them politicians need to play more football." It is a noble game. And, it was agreed, a likely cure for the ills in Washington.

Competion. Victory. Paying whatsoever it costs. Bending the rules. Conspiring to humiliate your opponent. Taking No Prisoners. Pre-game boasting. Post-game excuses. Trysts with cheerleaders. Locker room talk. Rabid fans. Fistfights among the spectators. Drug use. Prison time. Trick plays. Egos. Retiring to become an announcer. Equating it somehow with patriotism. Selling your autograph. Whoring what at one time may have been pure to so many corporate sponsors.

"Them boys needs to play more football." That'll man 'em up. Meanwhile print up some bumper stickers, I'M STUPID AND I VOTE.

As I was leaving a small boy pointed at me and looked me dead in the eye. "Hobo!" he said and I laughed aloud. But that doesn't excuse his bad manners.

It was too an interesting choice of words. It is what I've been calling myself. But then I chose the word carefully. It has an antique charm. One wonders where a boy of five would get the vocabulary. Or the courage.

Perhaps from his doting grandfather. Idiot. Football fan.

Quite uninfluenced by this commentary, I set out to find a barber. I was scheduled to go and stay with the Smiths. It seemed the right thing to do. They're such a clean and attractive family. They're used to me, of course. But what of their neighbors and family friends. What of their reputation. I would keep my long hair; I like it that way. I've earned my shaggy beard. I thought I'd just clean it all up a little. Every little bit helps.

There is no barber in Holstein, Iowa. There was a beauty salon. I would have gone there. What do they care. Give the ladies something to gossip about. But they were closed. I hiked back to the road, looking like a diminutive Sasquatch.

Not far up the road I met four little kids. They ran to the road to greet me. They demanded to know just what I was doing. I explained as well as I could. They were small but unafraid. They gave me their frank opinion. "You walk too much."

I could not agree more. It was, they informed me, their mother's birthday. Join me in wishing her well. She's got great kids and that's worth something. I expect she's a pretty good mom.

I was then pleased to meet Anna and Wyatt. Anna had made me a sandwich. There's no better way to win my affection. They brought a banana too. And some cucumber slices and a can of cold Coke. They're taking good care of me. I stuffed everything into my pockets and trusted them with my tent.

That is five punds out of my pack but it is more than that. It was a symbol of my dedication. I had to make it that last dozen miles or I would be homeless indeed. But I had all the fuel I needed and the promise of dinner as well. I am awfully fond of the family Smith. I bet I'm the most irredeemable friend they've got.

I was in good spirits but my feet were sore. It's some pretty hard walking here. It's a busy road and where there is a shoulder it is heaped with sharp gravel. I'm sure it will settle in by spring but I'll be gone by then. For the time being it is like running on sand. It robs my forward motion.

But the day was nice and not too too windy. It is pretty country, this. That is if you like cornfields. I didn't think I would. But I do. They're a sign of prosperity. We need all of that we can get. And the wind blowing through the drying stalks makes a pleasing sound like rain. The rolling hills keep things interesting. It never gets too steep. And the clouds were unnaturally beautiful, each fluffy and distinct.

And there is a vast wind farm up and running, the first I have seen close up. Great towers, fifty of them, one-hundred-fifty feet high. White, with three great blades, each about ninety feet long. They turn at about fifteen RPM. I don't think they're a danger to birds. Any bird dumb enough to get hit by one was probably destined to die.

There is some debate locally about how practical or efficient these things are. I'd have to see all the data. But instinctually I quite like them. Alternative energy thrills me. And they'll get better as they build more. These engineers are nobody's chimp. I just like the idea of pulling power directly from the air. And they're pretty, though they do make you dizzy if you stare at them too long.

Dawn is fast approaching. It will not do to sleep in church. I hope the preacher is dynamic enough to be interesting, but not so dynamic that he wants to Save me, specifically, then and there.

I MET TOO four high school men. They were cheerful and polite. It may be too soon to give up altogether on the future of this nation.

(DUDES! Send me a picture.)

AND I WAS HONORED to meet my very first roller derby team, gassing up in Holstein. They are DC/DC, the Dakota City Destruction Crew, and I wish them a successful season. They were, too, pretty and kind. That's what politics needs.

(LADIES! Send me a picture.)
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Friday, September 23, 2011

Day One-Hundred-Nineteen, Toasted Buns

The sun was shining when I woke up. It wasn't so cold at all. Because I had slept for eleven straight hours. It was by then 9:42. That's late even by my standards, at least out here on the road. But I was fluey and needed the rest. I woke up more or less cured.

And my tent had dried out, even deep in the trees. And my tentpoles weren't cold at all. But I still took my time getting back on the road. I had gone and out-hoboed myself. And not for the first time. I come up with these spectacularly well concealed tent sites and then have the damnedest time remembering how I got in there in the first place. I was surrounded by prickle bushes. I sat down to contemplate life.

Back on the road my legs were weak. You expect that after an illness. Real or imagined. I had too a fairly uncomfortable blister. I should have doctored it the night before but I tell you it is really hard to generate enthusiasm for that kind of thing. It would have meant climbing out of my sleeping bag and skewering myself with nosehair scissors. It hurts and it hurts my feelings. Which is why I'm neglecting that same task tonight. Let it fester till morning.

I will be up much earlier tomorrow. I've left myself little choice. I am camped on the edge of Highway 20. The State Patrol may wake me up. I am quite invisible here in the dark but will be easy to see come the dawn. The shame of sleeping in in front of everyone ought to have me up by seven or so. We'll see, we'll see.

The earlier the better, I am inclined to think, though I know my tentpoles will be cold. I am scheduled to visit my friends the Smiths, whom you may remember as the nice family I met in southeastern Montana. They were delivering their daughter Grace to college when one of their wheels fell off. I stopped to offer impotent sympathy and they've been friends of mine ever since.

And great friends to have, it has turned out. You'll never guess what I'm wearing now. Fleece pants. I'm wearing fleece pants. It's cold but I have never felt so toasty. You'll recall that just yesterday I was lamenting the fact that there is no such thing as fleece pants. Good Mrs. Smith sat down and made me a pair. And delivered them to me here on the road, not two short hours ago. I almost cried.

Gosh, they're warm. I've got thermals too, but I have not bothered with them. I am perfectly warm in my fleece pants. I feel like a teddy bear. Yesterday, though, I said I would wear my fleece pants to parties, but I am afraid that is quite impossible. They're warm but they make me look fat. My thermals are in fact rather slimming. They just don't work as good.

The whole jolly family came out to greet me, less Grace who is off getting smart. There is Elsie, a flower, and Wyatt, a pill, and Anna, whose name I forgot. That delightful little palindrome made me chocolate chip cookies. I am chewing on one even now. And Mrs. Smith brought me soup, hot from the stove, chicken noodle in a styrofoam cup. And Mr. Smith, no doubt a little tired from his three and a half jobs, condescended to deliver them all. It was like Christmas, I swear.

Oh, and Grandma sent me socks. She worries about me, you know. I have not had the honor of meeting her, but it is her interest perhaps more than anyone's that keeps me from getting too foul and blasphemous in my blog. I don't know, even now, that she would approve of my every scribbling, but I thank her for her kind indulgence.

I didn't break any records walking today. Late start and lazy habits. I was able to visit but one small town, Correctionville, Iowa. It seems pleaeant enough but I did not stay long enough to find out how many people live there or learn how it got its name. I do know they used to have a grocery store but it burned down. Foul play is not suspected.

And I believe I have answered a question that has been puzzling me. As you know, I live on hamburgers, largely because they are cheap and filling, widely available and predictably digestible. But I've long wondered why, given so little variation in ingredients, some burgers are really good and most others aren't. The secret? Toasted buns. I swear that's it.

Anyway, I'm cold and my battery is dead. I must bid you goodnight. Thanks for tuning in.

I JUST KNOW that some of you are already planning to build an empire based on fleece pants. Well, I am afraid that invention is shared by Mrs. Smith and myself. And she may yet sue me for my half. It is a million dollar idea, though. You're right about that.

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Thursday, September 22, 2011

Day One-Hundred-Eighteen, Fur Hats

This fellow I spoke to--Don, I think his name was--inTilden, Nebraska said that some years back he and his young son took to sleeping in the tree fort. There was no trouble in the home. Winter was coming and they just wanted to see how long they could do it, to see how tough they were. Tough enough, I imagine. Don said the secret to cold weather survival is to train your cat to sleep on top of your bald head.

This is the sort of thing you have to be On the Road to learn. And appreciate. I have filed it away for future use but it doesn't do me much good now. I don't have a cat or a bald head. Or a son or a treehouse. All I've got is a tent and bitter feelings and a few symptoms of the flu.

Mere influenza cannot undo me. I don't as a rule catch cold. The trick is to deny it when it appears. It will soon enough go away. Your mind and body will conspire to cure you, rather than make you a liar. So I don't have the flu and I ain't going to get it. I am a superman.

My little computer, and it has been dishearteningly accurate about these things, says it is going to be 37 degrees tonight. It makes it 42 now. If this is 42 I do not want to know what 37 is going to be like. A lot like last night, I'm inclined to guess. I did not like that so much at all. It hurt my feelings. It made my toes ache. It took all the fun out of peeing.

I did find a Goodwill on the edge of Sioux City and invested in a new fleece pullover. It is a sad shade of green and covered in cat hair. It cost $3.75. It is thick and warm and the sleeves are long enough to pull over my fingers. I think it's money well spent. I wish I could find a pair of fleece pants. I would wear them to parties.

I do have my thermal underwear and a warmish brand of hat. And a fairly good sleeping bag. I may just survive yet. But I have come to appreciate the difference between survival and comfort. They'll sell you all manner of outdoor gear on the boast that it will keep you alive down to this temperature or that. But they never tell you how unpleasant it will be.

It will be unpleasant.

I didn't make a great deal of progress today. I am sure I fell short of my quota. But I was a little fluey and I am wearing new shoes. I needed too to recharge my computer. Which I did not wholly succeed in doing, but I should get through this brief essay. I do not intend to type at you long. My nose is starting to drip.


My new shoes I guess are doing OK. I do have a shiny new blister. I haven't bothered to look at it yet. I've got worries enough. It will either be better or worse tomorrow. Such is the nature of life.


Highway 20 in Iowa is a well used four-lane road. The paved shoulder is too narrow for walking. There is gravel on the side. It is fairly rough and would have killed me in my last shoes, but my new ones are a little heavier. But still my feet get knocked around quite a bit inside the shoe itself. Uneven surfaces are the devil. Blisters are his imps.

I had breakfast at a Perkins restaurant. I thought it was going to suck. I just wanted to get some coffee. I wanted to hold the warm mug. But it was nice, not expensive and the coffee was really good. The food was pretty but soulless. I've certainly eaten worse. They had some beautiful pies, as well, but I'm still fighting a wooze.

What really impressed me was my waitress. She was really good. It is a joy to see someone excel at their job. I speak in all seriousness. Her timing, her attitude, her skill with a tray. It was poetry. I doubt one in ten-thousand Americans are as good at their job as she is at hers. She should give seminars. I found myself wishing I had my own restaurant so I could hire her at twice the pay.

Of course the girl at the Goodwill was pretty competent too. Maybe it is just an Iowa thing. Maybe Iowans take pride in their work. Good for Iowa.

Anyway, I am a couple of miles past Moville, Iowa, camped in a small patch of trees. Not a great spot, but it'll do. There are critters without. Raccoons I guess, or maybe a skunk. No one I want sitting on my head.

I've got thirteen-odd miles between me and breakfast. Let's hope it's a stronger day. I've only to pee and then I can sleep. Damn, but it is cold outside. What would a NASA astronaut do in a stuation like this.

CHEERS TO the Man of God who bought me lunch and the snacks salesman who gave me free samples.
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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Day One-Hundred-Seventeen, Iowa!

I have for decades suffered from insomnia, and not the usual kind. It is not so much that I can't fall asleep. It is more that I just don't want to. My mind is most active in the wee hours. It is when I get my boldest ideas. Thousands of them. I am overwhelmed by the noise. And I am plagued by many regrets. When I can I look for distractions.

I compose dialogues and doggerel rhymes. I calculate cube roots. Once not so very long ago I tried to Name All Fifty States. I was not successful. I had to put on the light and reach for a pencil and paper. I wrote them all down alphabetically. I pictured the map in my mind. But over the next two days I could never come up with more than forty-nine.

I began to suspect a conspiracy. Conspiracies do exist. They tell us there are fifty states, but has anyone checked to see? I was ashamed of myself when I figured it out. I'd gone and forgotten Nebraska.

I guess it means something to football fans but it is often overlooked. It just isn't so very arresting. It's the Delaware of the Midwest. But Nebraska will forever have a special place in my heart. I walked just about the length of the state. I enjoyed the time I spent there. The walking was good, the people were kind and the prices were not too too high. And I swear to golly, a good dozen people stepped up to buy me lunch.

Which did even more than lighten my heart. It saved me a great deal of money. And kept me fed and happy and healthy. And made me fond of all things Nebraska. Disparage that great state in my presence and I will give you what for.

Washington, I was already fond of. Montana kicked my ass. I was just a few days in Idaho and but a long afternoon in Wyoming. In South Dakota I stuck to the pretty parts; I can't speak for the rest of the state. But Nebraska is now a part of me and me a part of it. I couldn't be better pleased.

I woke up in Homer and had a nice breakfast. I didn't go overboard. I had woken up several times with a very strong urge to throw up. You cannot, it seems, run a railroad on hotdogs and onion rings. And other things fried and a can of beer and a two- or three-day-old donut. I was fighting back a powerful wooze but I did not want to mess up their park. They had been so kind to let me stay. It would not have been at all proper.

A good hearty breakfast settled me some. I climbed back onto the road. And hiked thirteen miles, almost nonstop, to South Sioux City, Nebraska. North the whole way, you understand. That's just how things worked out.

It had been my intention to rejoin Highway 20 and follow it across the bridge. But at that point it had teamed with an interstate. It wouldn't accomodate me. So I had to keep moving, five miles north to what is known as the Pretty Bridge. It lights itself up blue at night. This afternoon it was just sort of bridge colored.

I had wanted to walk east into Iowa. The Pretty Bridge runs north and south. Before I crossed I stopped to use the mensroom at McDonald's. A fellow gets used to the wilderness life. You can pee anywhere. City walking involves strategy and a lot more self control.

I haven't been in a McDonald's for years. I remembered I quite like their shakes. But they're different now; they're not as good. I ordered a burger, as well. A mushroom Swiss, from their luxury line. Good Jimminy, it was foul. How on earth do they stay in business. They ought to be ashamed of themselves.

I did meet some nice people. Being Nebraskans, they insisted on buying me lunch. I am afraid I repaid them by shocking them speechless by telling them a dirty joke. Sorry. It wasn't obscene, I swear to you, and it illustrated a point. But I too soon forget that not everyone has lived my Godless life.

One fellow there was 88 years old. In 1942 he was ready to get drafted. He thought he should see a bit of America first so he spent thirty dollars on a Model A and drove it to California. I wish I could have heard more about it. It was a bold thing to do. This was, you remember, before decent roads and mechanical reliability.

He worried his mother and when he got home his draft board made him 4f. "We want to win this war," they told him. "Go home. We don't want you."

Or that's how he tells it. He got the last laugh. He's old but still going strong. And has within him that peculiar bug that makes people Walk Across America. And climb high mountains and create art and now and again fall in love.

The wide Missouri is not too too wide at the point where I crossed it. It was a whole lot bigger than it was in Montana. It was wider a few months back. A nice city park on the Iowa side was pretty well wiped out. I crossed through it on my way into town. Some workmen told me to leave. I was just following the sidewalk. It's not my fault I tresspassed on their soggy park. Put up a sign, for Heaven's sake. Some welcome to Iowa.

That bit of Sioux City has little to offer, now that their park is gone. There's what looks like a basketball stadium. The rest is industry. Stinking and decrepit. There are piles of debris and smoke from a rendering plant. The cracked and crumbling concrete streets reminded me of New Delhi.

I had a pretty rough five miles overland to get to the shopping mall. A nice girl at the Ramada Inn gave me fantastic directions. Not many people have that skill. She could see it from my situation. Walking is much different than driving a car. I would have been lost without her.

But even with her good help and her handy map it was not such easy going. Sioux City, Iowa's almost as big as Spokane and it is not designed for walking. You have to get creative in spots and the people in passing cars look at you like you're a weirdo.

I hit the mall and bought shoes in record time. They had an excellent selection. Every brand of hiking boot. I got the best ones I could afford. And if they don't work out they'll be dead in a month. That's just the nature of things. I left my Nebraska boots behind. They had walked as far as they could.

I was all but ready to sleep indoors, but I found again Highway 20. I made it to the edge of town and am camping hobo style. Civilisation surrounds me. They don't know I'm here. I am a man with skills.

It is meant to be another cold night. I am inclined to believe them this time. But I'll survive. I always do. Like the cockroach, only taller.

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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Day One-Hundred-Sixteen, D'oh!

Again I slept until eight o'clock. I had been up fairly late. And I had put up my tent on what looked soft lawn but was in fact some very hard ground. It like to have bruised my tender bits and caused me all manner of suffering.

I was all packed up by nine or so and walked back up through town. It was my pleasure to meet the mayor's wife and/or girlfriend. She came out of her home to wish me well. I respond well to encouragement. It was a nice way to start the day.

A paved road took me to Highway 77, where I had breakfast at a gas station. It wasn't exactly the biscuits & gravy of better days, but I managed to get myself stuffed. I had a donut and a pre-made sandwich of sorts, and some coffee, and some Coke and a hot dog. Junk food, I suppose you would call it. It all burns up just the same. Indeed the hot dog was pretty good. I could have eaten nine of them.

Highway 77 is a well-used stretch. There were all kinds of trucks. It runs up the middle of that big square of land that makes up the Omaha and Winnebago Indian Reservations. There is corn and soybeans and quite a few trees. There's a river somewhere about. The road passes over rolling hills. It winds about just a bit. Past well kept farms and friendly cows. It was not such a very bad walk.

In the morning it was threatening to rain and even did for a spell. But by afternoon the sun came out to reveal a not unpleasant fall day. Five or six miles took me past Walthill, the principal city of the Omaha. But I wasn't so hungry and it was a ways off the road. I'd got a late start. I moved on.

So I can't tell you anything about the people who live there. The Omaha are one brand of Sioux. Their farms look prosperous. It's a trim little town. I'll visit next time I Walk Across America.

Another seven miles took me to Winnebago, Nebraska, of the Winnebago tribe. Unlike most of the Indians in this part of the country, they are not Sioux. They started out on the far edge of Wisconsin and then were shoved into Minnesota. Then into another part of Minnesota until they finally wound up here. The government took away half the land they had promised the Omaha and gave it to them. It's kind of an Israel/Palestine thing. They've been at war ever since.

Or at least they don't very much like each other, neighbors though they may be. These days they're just sort of cold to each other. I don't think much brawling goes on. Then again, it might. In the end it comes down to whose stories you want believe.

Winnebago the town is doing alright. They've got a beautiful hospital and 900 people and they have their very own casino. That's where I had my lunch. More junk food, I'm afraid to say. I did half charge my computer. And left the place with plenty of time to get to Homer, within striking range of Sioux City.

But I ran into the Briggs Brothers in the parking lot. They invited me to their car for a beer. I thought, what the hell; they were interesting. They are men in their sixties. One of them looks like Larry David, the other like Ben Kenobi. Or like the two distinct halves of my very own soul. It was like having a beer with myself.

They were up to the casino to gamble. I enjoyed talking to them. We had three conversations, all at once, huddled in their little car. They were most hospitable. A good time was had by all. I left an hour later, bleary eyed and dry mouthed, with a jones for some onion rings. And feeling most philosophical and in the jolliest humor. I had a not unpleasant seven-mile stroll to the village of Homer, Nebraska.

Homer is a town of some 400 people. That's about as many as it needs. It is fully contained with hundreds of houses. Their Main Street is up and running. 400 seems to be the magic number for creating a vibrant community. I bellied up at Bob's Saloon and ordered some onion rings.

Bob hadn't given much thought to naming his bar when he applied for his liquor license. You've got to name it something, he was told. "Uh... Bob's Saloon?" And so it was sealed. I think it's a good name for a bar. Bob is a large and friendly fellow. I wish him every success.

Onion rings are something of a luxury for me. They cost more than fried potatoes. And usually you get only four or five. Not at Bob's, I say. They brought me a heaping basket of them. Just what I needed, when I needed it.

I spoke too with John, a local businessman and master wood turner. He filled me in on things. He has the distintion of being the only person born in Homer, Nebraska. Recently, at any rate. Most folks are born in Iowa. That, you see, is where the hospital is. He, though, was born in town. I did not ask about the circumstances. Now I wish I had.

Find me now camped in Homer Park. I do not have official permission. But everyone I spoke with thought it would be fine. I expect this will be my last night in Nebraska. I will rather miss the place.

HIGHWAY 77 has a smooth wide shoulder, littered with dead raccoons. And pieces of them, thoroughly sqooshed. And the front half of a skunk.

COYOTES are howling not so far off. It really upsets the dogs.
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Monday, September 19, 2011

Day One-Hundred-Fifteen, Fame

I slept ten full hours. I guess I was tired. My tent site was lumpy as hell. But as sometimes happens, the lumps were well placed. I woke up at eight o'clock.

To another beautiful day. There was not a cloud in the sky. I could see high above a few airplanes, headed for this place or that. I suppose I've flown over Nebraska myself, and never really paid it much mind. But today I felt sorry for those sorry souls. Nebraska is the one place to be.

It took its time climbing into the eighties. It was nice to be uncomfortably warm. I had a sixteen mile walk into Bancroft, Nebraska. My next source of nourishment. But it wasn't so bad; the weather was fine and my little radio is working again. I got NPR out of Omaha. It really made the time fly.

For intelligent programming and good interviews, you really can't beat NPR. You don't have to wait until pledge time, you know. Go ahead, send 'em a check. For the Car Talk guys alone. Them boys is a national treasure.

A mile short of Bancroft a truck pulled up. A nice lady gave me ice tea. She was Jo, with Blake, her strapping son. It was awfully decent of them. I don't know what profit there is in doing nice things for strangers. But we strangers do appreciate it. Most of us, I am sure there're some grouches, but nine times out of ten you win. Now I know I'm not the first one to think of it; Jesus went on and on about this sort of thing. But there is something to be said for Loving Your Neighbor, even if he does have a beard.

Jo did bring bad news, bless her generous heart, "The bridge is out, you know."

I did not, as a matter of fact. It is the bridge I was making for. There was some flooding a while back. It made something of a hole. I knew it was a possibility. I just put it out of my mind. I try not to dwell on the negative. This time it came back to bite me.

I decided to ponder it all over lunch at the Bancroft pub and restaurant. It has a name; I don't recall it now. It's under new management. You can't miss it. It's on Main Street, a pretty good walk from my road. But I was ready for that investment. I was pretty hungry by then.

It is quite a big place, bigger than need be in a town of 400 people. There was a very pretty girl behind the bar and four older gents playing poker. They turn up there every afternoon. I spoke a bit with the winner. He had fleeced his companions for 35-cents. Let's hope they do better tomorrow.

They were supportive of and interested in this peculiar journey of mine. And thought it might be newsworthy. They phoned the local paper. I protested but somewhat weakly. It's high time I got some press. No Walk Across America is truly official until it appears in print.

The reporter turned up a minute later. She was, do forgive me, quite old. Or quite a bit older than what you'd think your typical newshound might be. But sh had a yellow pad and pen and asked me all sorts of questions. I answered while I was eating my lunch. I hope she doesn't report on my manners.

She was Ms. Vogt, pronounced "vote", especially at election time. That's at her insistence, not my own. I merely do the reporting. I don't know that what I'm doing is newsworthy, but I'll take her at her word. She took my picture and paid for my lunch. When I left she gave me a hug.

I don't know whether this all falls within the bounds of journalistic ethics, but I cannot help thinking that if young Woodward and Bernstein had adopted similar tactics they wouldn't have struggled so. And I was game and very much cheered. And, at the editor's discretion, soon to be a household word in one small town in Nebraska.

I will not, I don't think, let it go to my head. Fame is a fleeting thing. And I will have moved on by then. I am at this time headed north.

"North?" you ask. "You're a madman! Winter is coming, you know." And I thank you for your kind concern. North works out better for me. I've got places to go in Iowa, and I still very much need new shoes. Which I am hoping I'll find in Sioux City. I think that's a pretty big town. I hope I find them without hiking all over hell, but I'll let you know when I get there.

I stopped on the edge of town to replenish my bread and cheese supply. I got bagels and a brick of cheddar. At small town prices, it rather stung. But there's a cost to staying alive. Then it was north through the cornfields, again on dirt farm roads. All the locals know this shortcut. There were all sorts of cars. Most of the drivers were careful and polite, but some drove like Bo and Luke.

I was headed for Rosalie. Not many folks make it this far. It is a town of 200 people. I planned to put up in their park. A mile from town I met Ernie the Trashman. He really made me smile. He looked like a cross between Tom Arnold and Jack Elam. "You're a crazy f***er," he said.

Which ain't so far from the truth. I was glad to have met him, and glad for the welcome to town. I quite like these hidden communities, far from any highway. You would never guess that they exist, but somehow or other life goes on. They've got a water tower and a saloon. And a number of big mean dogs.

It was a chance to test my theory that any dog can be stopped in its tracks simply by saying "Dog!" in the right tone of voice. It worked three times, but I think two of them were on chains and the third was a coward at heart.

I made my way to the saloon to ask where the park was. People have such big beautiful lawns. And there are so many trees. The whole town's a park. The bartender was ugly and rude. He was kind of a big guy. He glowered at me. I'm kind of a big guy. I glowered back. I resented his effort to spoil my belief that Nebraskans are all nice people.

So it was with a heavy heart that I walked to the park. He had indicated it with a jerk of his thumb. And then at the park an electronic voice all at once started shouting at me. "You are tresspassing! You are tresspassing!" Again and again. I had tripped some kind of a sensor. It was like something out of Mission Impossible. Screw Rosalie, I thought.

It was by then getting dark but I didn't care. I wanted nothing to do with their snotty town. I figured I'd go camp in a cornfield. I headed back the way I came. And then when I was almost free of the place I heard a man shouting "Hey!"

Now what, I thought. I had had quite enough. Someone was going to get thumped. But it was one of the gents from the poker game. I unloaded my troubles on him.

"The bartender is always like that," he said. "We pretty much just ignore him. You can camp in the park as far as I'm concerned." That was not good enough for me.

"I'm the mayor," he added as an aside. I proudly shook his hand. And fell in love with Rosalie all over again. I have here some powerful connections. I am now camped comfortably in the park. I expect to have good dreams. Goodnight.

ROSALIE is on the Omaha Indian Reservation, but not many Indians live here. They sold off the land years ago and no one is offering it back. There are Indian towns, too, which I'll visit tomorrow. The Winnebago Reservation is right next door. I don't know anything about either tribe. I hope I find someone to ask.
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Sunday, September 18, 2011

Day One-Hundred-Fourteen, Sun

I was asleep for a good nine hours. I could have slept nine or ten more. It wears you out, avoiding work and shirking responsibility. And shoe shopping. That one's a killer. It'll bring a strong man to his knees.

I'd put my tent in amongst the trees. Gosh it got dark back there. The fog and the rain quite obscured the stars. It wasn't so awfully cold. Still I was slow in packing up. Some days you just don't have the strength. It really is a pain in the ass. I've got to get me a valet. Or a Sherpa. Or a positive attitude and a more energetic soul.

Despite the promises of almost a week the sun was nowhere to be seen. The world was shrouded in a thickish fog that did not quite reach the ground. My road took me more or less due east, up and down rolling hills. Up. Then down. Then up again. Each looked quite like the next. There was no sense of progress. There was plenty of corn. And one or two friendly cows.

I stopped several times, every mile or two, to eat more bread and cheese. And to break the monotony. You get bored after a while. And somehow my pack felt lopsided. My back was bothering me some. It didn't hurt but it felt like it might. I've been fairly lucky so far. The only injury I've suffered is a broken heart. Trust me, you get used to that.

And I bear no grudges. I have nothing but the utmost respect and admiration for the brave men and women of the United States Forest Service. They work hard, mean well, have beautiful eyes and smile that would melt your heart.

Some hours in, I sensed the sun. I couldn't see it but I knew it was there. And ten minutes later it had cooked off the fog and revealed a clear blue sky. Ornamented here and there with white fluffy clouds of the sort a child might draw. It was beautiful. I thought I might cry. It was by then one p.m.

And I was out of water. I've been carrying the same superfluous half-gallon since Valentine. But today I drank it up with eight more miles to town.

Now you can walk eight miles without water. You can walk it without shoes or socks. But I can be highly suggestible when it comes to dying of thirst. I start thinking I might and my throat goes dry and soon it starts to swell shut. If I'd had anything else on my mind I wouldn't have noticed at all.

I stopped at a friendly farmhouse. A nice lady filled up my jug. Her husband had a grand moustache. They had a lot of cats. Being so close to the highway, the poor things often get squished. So rather than risk one day being without, they like to keep a few in reserve.

From there it was down the road to Pilger. It was a mile out of my way. But I had a burger in the saloon. Everyone was real nice. But I couldn't linger. I was back on the road in something under an hour. And I no longer need thirty-nine Cokes, now that it's not so hot.

I left Pilger (pronounced Pill-grrr, not Pill-jurr) on a back road. Dirt. It was lined with corn. There were very few cars but every one slowed so the people inside could stare. I was starting to feel just a little self-conscious, like I had cheese in my beard.

I had grown quite accustomed to my Cowboy Trail. A dirt road's the next best thing. It is strange after so many days on my own to have traffic roaring by. My favorite place to walk is still on sidewalks. I hardly meet those at all. If I were an Internet billionaire, I'd build a sidewalk across America.

And no one could use it but me.

And people I like. And people I would like if I ever met them. And people I hate just a little. And their friends.

I am now on Highway 51 east, or camped artfully beside it. It is getting harder to find good spots. It is lucky I've got hobo skills. Safe, not too cold and invisible, fifteen feet off the road.

It is not a very well travelled road, not on late Sunday afternoons. I hope it is every bit as empty tomorrow. There is no shoulder at all. I am almost out of cheese. My next meal is yet sixteen miles away. Unless I want to eat tinned weeners, which between you and me, I don't.

MY DIRT Road took me past several feed lots. It let me avoid several more. They are stinking and awful places. The cows--steers, I guess they are--look at me pleadingly. The food's good but they don't like it there. They want me to let them go.

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Saturday, September 17, 2011

Day One-Hundred-Thirteen, Tonight

I woke up at seven o'clock, remarkable for a motel. I did not get to sleep until two or three. Again, that's fairly early. I could have done with more sleep, but that's how it goes. I'll make up for it tonight.

I availed myself of the free continental breakfast. Of that I have little to say. They were very kind to me at the EconoLux. It's the finest hotel in the world. But I feel for those folks on the continent. They really don't eat so well.

Even with my quick start I was in my room until a minute past checkout time. I couldn't help it. It was so warm in there. I could not tear myself away. I was on my bed watching the Weather Channel, entertaining dark thoughts. The sunshine they've been promising me for days did not appear on their radar.

It was foggy outside and threatening rain. It remained that way all day. No doubt the black clouds were up there somewhere, hovering just out of sight. It was not too too cold but it was windy. I walked over to the mall.

Norfolk, Nebraska is a goodish town, home to twenty-four thousand people. Which is, comparatively speaking, a metropolis and the biggest town I've been in for months. In the small towns they're inclined to welcome me, as a curiosity if nothing else. In Norfork I felt a little bit silly walking around with my pack. And my baggy clothes and my safety hat and my own version of a beard. Children stopped and stared open mouthed until their mothers hustled them away.

I felt sillier still in a shopping mall. Malls have their own set of rules. People dress up to go shopping, whether they admit it or not. What's worse is that though I was thoroughly bathed, I was wearing my same stinky clothes. Anyone wondering if I was a hobo need only have taken a whiff.

It is a small mall. I went to every shoe store, then every shoe store in town. No joy. The shoes I am wearing are melting right off my feet. They are not paining me or upsetting my stride, but I fear they may be on the verge of what the engineers call a Catastrophic Failure.

Duck tape. Duct tape. Zip ties and paste. Spit and baling wire. I'll MacGyver 'em if I have to. I'm going to be just fine.

I very much hate shopping for shoes. I know some people think it is fun. Women, I believe they are called. They're awful pretty but still. I can easily think of three or four things that I would rather do. Not least because new shoes bring with them a new hundred miles of pain. And they cost a lot more than anything should that wears out after a month.

Giving up on shoes I hiked to the laudromat. It is nice to have clean clothes. And it was warm in there. There were little kids zooming around on the carts. I have very faint memories of being bored out of my skull at laundromats. They are no place for children. But I've got to say I quite like them now. They're warm. There are chairs. It is soothing. And you meet the nicest folks, often a segment of the population you will not see anywhere else.

By then I figured it was time to eat. I popped into a bar for a burger. And thirteen Cokes, more out of habit than in any reflection of thirst. Nebraska was playing the Washington Huskies in some sort of football game. It is huge around here; everyone on the street wears red in support of their team. I actually attended the University of Washington. I didn't give a rat's ass who won.

Though now I hope that it was the Washington Huskies. Football fans give me the creeps. It is an asinine game, too slow of pace, that glorifies man at his worst. Baseball may be every bit as dull, but at least it is gentlemanly.

Then it was time to get out of Dodge. It was by then four p.m. If I'd stuck around a minute longer I knew I'd be back in the motel. I just can't afford it, money or time. I only wish that I could. I'll spent my last and best years watching TV with a banjo in my lap.

I headed up 275 in the cold and the fog and the wind and the dark. For no good Christian reason it had gone to four lanes, with no shoulder at all. That meant I had to walk in the grass with the prickle burrs and the snakes. The latter of which are frozen stiff, but they crunch unpleasantly under foot.

I crossed a river and the landscape changed. There were all at once hills and trees. That always makes me a little uneasy. I get used to things as they are. And I lose my rhythm in these big cities. I was sure I'd find no place to camp.

And the fog was getting thicker. It was getting dark. To the side I saw a sign, ROAD CLOSED. Some unpaved farm road, off into the trees. It should have said, JAMES! CAMP HERE!

So I did. It was only after I got my tent up that I realised it was just 5:30. Oops. I could have walked another ten miles. But it is raining now and I'm snug and well-fed. We'll worry about walking tomorrow.

NORFOLK is pronounced "Norfork" by old-timers, "Norfolk" by the newer breed. I was for a long time uncertain which one was correct. I was reluctant to pronounce it at all. I would call it "Uh, you know, that town up the road" or contract it into something like "Norf'uck". Which was embarrassing for everyone. Nobody knows how I suffer.

I PASSED a farmers' market, on the way to the mall and bought some fancy bread. And some zucchini bread from a very old woman. She was charging two dollars a loaf. It has to cost her twice that much to bake it and bring it to town. Damn it's good. I should have bought more, but I did not want to bankrupt the gal.

JOHNNY CARSON grew up here. He is still highly regarded. For our international friends, he is like our Winston Churchill.
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Day One-Hundred-Twelve, Shrouds

I woke up betimes but did not leave my tent. It was not cowardice; it was calculation. I was sure the sun would come out. It did not. It was another blustery day. I set out in search of breakfast.

Across the Trail I found the Udder Cafe, or Shoppe or Place or something. You'll know it when you see it; it's on Highway 275 and painted to look like a cow. And they put up a fairly impressive breakfast. The people are friendly and kind.

I sat down to a mere breakfast and a half. I was not in a two breakfast mood. I chatted some with Don and Scott, local Republicans. Gosh, but it was cozy in there. I was willing to stay there all day. There were lots of old folks who are always so kind. Friend Scott it seems paid for my breakfast. Thank you, sir.

I quite liked Tilden. I can't say just why. It is just a nice little town. There are maybe a thousand people or so and every one of them was nice to me. And the very next day was the Ribs Festival, a great barbeque in the streets. I imagine there would be beer, as well. I was offered a warm place to stay. But the road, the damnable road, has its first claim on me.


I continued on my Cowboy trail. I couldn't say what time it was. My one watch died just east of Wenatchee and the sun was nowhere to be seen. There were roiling black clouds, low to the ground. It kept things pretty dark all day. It was as if it were perpetually seven p.m. and just about to get dark. It is disorientating. I did keep me moving. I was sure it would very soon rain.

It did not. Nor did it snow. I would not have been surprised if it did. There was no smell of snow in the air but it did have a grey snowy feel. What houses I passed had bedsheets and blankets spread over their vegetable gardens. I suppose it is just a matter of time before they place such a shroud over me.

Five miles on I passed Meadow Grove. I couldn't say if I stopped. With all due respect to the good people there, these towns are quite running together. Ah, now I remember, another nice little town, very small indeed. I asked if they had a laudromat. They did not. I moved on.

I am down to my last pair of shorts and the socks that hurt my feet. And, as everything has been damp, there has been a most unpleasant smell. A mustiness, overlayed with ammonia. I am hesitant to claim it as my own. Yet I am sure other people assign it to me. It precedes me wherever I go.

Stinking Across America. Please follow my adventures.

There was a laundromat on the east end of Tilden. I knew I must not stop there. I was in danger of spending the next six months there. It was all so cozy and warm. And I was determined to make it to Norfolk, Nebraska, twenty-two miles away. I'd had a very late start but that mattered not. There was nowhere to rest on the trail. Nowhere out of the wind and cold. There was nothing to do but walk.

You work up a sweat whether it's hot out or not. You have to keep that heat going. If you stop for more than a very few minutes you'll be very cold indeed. You'll get cranky. You'll feel sorry for yourself. You, I mean. Not me.

The Cowboy Trail split wide from the highway and took me to Battle Creek. I was surprised to see it was thriving town of some one-thousand souls. It is well off the road, kind of hidden back there. They don't much seem to mind. They have got a bustling seed corn plant and a brand new library. And a new high school. Folks from Norfolk are moving there to escape from big city life.

I should have stopped and had some lunch. But it was by then four o'clock. And they had fed me so very well in Tilden I didn't need any more. So on I went in the grey and gloom, with twelve more miles to go.

Five miles later my trail died. I guess a bridge was out. They spend a fortune maintaining the thing and I'm the only one who uses it. I found myself on a narrow farm road. I had no idead where I was. The corn was so high beside the road that I could not see anything.

I figured it out. I asked directions. I took good advice from Google. And made it to the edge of Norfolk, where I was detained by the law. Pulled over, rousted, forced to explain. Looked on with broad suspicion. I tell you it is disheartening and no proper welcome to town.

The guy was real nice about it. Someone had called me in. A red raincoat and a yellow hat. It suggest terrorism. Deputy Schmitz, I think he was called. He wore Coke-bottle glasses and a special pin that made him a firearms instructor. He was self-effacing and very polite, like the Canadians you see on TV.

Still, I object. I don't like producing ID. Pedestrianism is not a crime. And I was headed to a motel. Those Law & Order reruns aren't going to watch themselves.

I checked in to the EconoLux some time later. It is nice to be indoors. I enjoyed a three-minute swim in their very small pool and sat a bit in their spa. And had three baths and five showers and spread out my gear to dry. Life's good.

And I took full advantage of their generous Walking Across America discount. Let's give 'em a small plug here. EconoLux. Norfolk, Nebraska. The finest hotel in the world.
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