Friday, September 16, 2011

Day One-Hundred-Eleven, Misery

I am hauling ass across Nebraska. I am tearing up the roads. Winter has inspired me and made me fleet of foot. I might wish I'd put in more miles when the weather was warm, but I did do the best that I could. I can honestly say I walked as far as I could on every day of this trip.

Some days I did not walk a step. That was the best I could do. I may have been sidelined by injury or suffered a weakness of sorts. Of muscle, perhaps, or even of spirit. Perhaps of character. I am not a very active person. I'm not cut out for this sort of thing. I'd rather quit than do anything hard. I am lucky that some things come easy.

Not Life by any reasonable stretch. But I am doing the best that I can. And I've never thought about giving up. I am going to live forever.

That is if I don't freeze to death or die of pneumonia. Already I'm fighting a case of the snoofles. I blew my nose three times today. You try doing that with a long shaggy beard. It tests your dignity. Yet still I persist in looking good. But only through shear force of effort.

Today began as yesterday ended. It was bitter cold. Here's an idea for young engineers: heated tentpoles. From the nation that brought you aerosol cheese, that should be nothing at all. And very much appreciated. Damn those things get cold.

I was up before the dawn at six. I packed up a soggy tent. And a cold one, as well. Striking camp today was a very unhappy process. Rumor said it would warm up some. The rumors in this case were wrong. It was every bit as cold as the day before. Damn the weatherman.

But I was buoyed by an unwonted optimism. I was sure things would get better soon. There was a glorious sunrise, the first I've seen on this trip. All it wanted was warmth. On brittle toes I reached the local cafe and ordered myself two breakfasts.

Not by way of experiment. I wanted two breakfasts. I was not trying to impress anyone. And as it remained cold and overcast I called for a piece of pie. Sour cream and raisin, if you're keeping track. It was a bit sweet for me. I'd hate to think I am losing my taste for the finer things, ice cream and pie and such. As soon as I find a Meaning of Life it as quickly fades away.

Know that it was nothing less than heroism that got me back on the cowboy trail. A lesser man, a brighter man, would have given up there and then. But I plodded on in the blustery cold. I did not feel sorry for myself. I thought only of other people, and how they should be feeling sorry for me.

Nine or ten miles took me to Neiligh (pronounced Neely), population I don't just now care. A goodish town of some very few thousands. It took me broadly off my trail. I hit the library and tried to get warm but the cold was too deep by then. I don't think I'll ever be warm again. I have suffered a frost burned soul.

I monkeyed around with their computer a bit and added a few points to my long neglected route map. That I cannot maintain from the road. It will have to wait until the end of my trip. If anyone's still interested at that point. My interest will then be fading.

There is a motel in Neiligh, Nebraska. Hell, there are two of them. And yet I made the bold decision to continue walking on. After which it started to rain.

Not so hard. Just enough to lubricate the cold in the air. To allow it to thrust deeply within me. To make me its prison whore. I would apologise for that metaphor if I could describe the experience any other way. I walked on.

Past Oakdale, Nebraska. I did not bother to stop. It was some hundred yards out of my way and I was in no mood for company. I popped into a gas station for a half gallon of Gatorade. I chatted with the man at the till. He is originally from Newark, New Jersey. His life had taken some turns. Something of a wanderer himself, he's been stuck in Nebraska for seventeen years.

"Do you like it here?" I asked.
"No," he said. I noted his eloquence.

Raining harder now, I walked on. I made it to Tilden by dark. Tilden has maybe a thousand people and looks down on Oakdale. Though it gives them a grudging respect for having invented the toothbrush.

"If it had been invented anywhere else we would call it the teethbrush."

Fair enough. I was in the saloon for some root beer and fellowship. The long bar was divided more or less in two with a good wide gap in the middle. At one end sat the young men of the town. At the other sat the old farts. I pushed in amongst the farts, good-hearted gentlemen all.

I learned about Viet Nam and North Omaha and other such dangerous places. And shared theories about Johnny Carson and Ed McMahon and Bob Barker to boot. It seems L. Ron Hubbard was born in Tilden, quite by mistake, it seems. But Scientologists offered a million dollars to build to him there a shrine. It would bring jobs, increase tourism. The town fathers told them to piss off. They've got little use for "Moonies."

You don't hear much about the Moonies any more. I hope they're alright.

When I left the saloon it was really raining. Buckets. Cats. Dogs. On my way to the park I was stopped by the sheriff. "You must be Bobby," I said. In these small towns we all get to know each other. We're a big happy family.

Bobby's a big boy with a broad nose and an authoritative dent in his forehead. I don't doubt he made Tilden proud on the football field. That's important in these parts. But now he's gone on to serve and protect. Bless him, he was not rousting me. He thought I looked cold and wet and lost. Not in my town, said he.

I refused his offer of a ride as cheating, so he rolled next to me at three miles an hour to the football field, unlocked the mensroom and kept his high beams on me for five minutes while I put up my tent. Polite, honest, friendly and helpful, I hope he runs for governor one day. I will drop whatever I'm doing to work on his campaign.

But even with the full force of the law behind me, my tent filled with buckets of water. I sopped it up as best I could. Life's not so great right now. Cold, cold, damn the cold and all the bad decisions which led me to this point in my life. Goodnight.

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