I breakfasted at the same cafe that fed me so well last night. Biscuits and gravy were the special today. I added two eggs and hash browns. "Would you like then," said my very pretty waitress, "just a half order of biscuits?"
"Certainly not," said I. I've gone thirty years without eating breakfast but I'm making up for it since. There is no finer start to a walking day than to eat yourself into a sweat. There was that boy Lee, the recumbant cyclist, who eats nothing but cow chips and grass. But he is him and I am me. I thrive on calories.
I slept well but not long in the town park. I felt a duty to pack up early. I was overlooked by two or three houses and one somewhat pensive cow. I couldn't let them see me as weak or lazy. I may be but I have my pride.
There was a box in the park for donations. I did not leave them anything. I wanted to but I am poor. I do hope they understand. A mere dollar would be seen as insulting. Any more might cut into my lunch. In the future when I am really rich I'll have my man cut them a check.
I do hope they still exist in the future. These small towns are fading fast. Wood Lake, Nebraska I'll always remember because it's so spooky at night. I was honored to sign their guest book and am pleased to thank them here.
I left the cafe on Highway 20. I'd had quite enough of the trail. But there it was, taunting me. I climbed on after a mile. The gravel slows me just a bit and it is crawling with all sorts of snakes. But nobody else was using the thing. I felt sort of sorry for it. It is easy to lure mountain bikers to the Black Hills. Nebraska is more of a stretch. You need to have a keen eye for Beauty. You may need to be ugly yourself.
There are advantages too to a trail. I am less likely to be squished. And today it ran right along the road. I had no fear of losing myself. I stopped a few times but after eleven short miles I arrived in Johnstown, Nebraska, population 48.
"That's an old sign," said my new friend Dolly. "We've got fifty-three now." It seems they've enjoyed a small baby boom, and the old folks are all in good health.
Dolly was in charge of the L Bow Room, Johnstown's finest saloon. And the one business still up and running in town. Dolly is something of a talker. So am I, truth be known, but I was glad to give her the floor. She had every bit of the bounce and the rhythm that makes conversation fun.
Perhaps closer to my mother's age than my own, she has experienced some tragedy. She has lost some loved ones and then she got herself squished like a bug in a head-on collision. But she has one o' them indomitable spirits. She brings joy, I suspect, to everyone she meets. I wish I could be more like her.
My own life has been free from tragedy but is tragic nevertheless. In the dramatic sense. Fatal flaws and all that. It is nobody's fault but my own. There have been some comic elements, as well. But all the best jokes hurt like hell.
It had been three hours since my big breakfast. I had a cheeseburger. Even if I did not have this affinity with cows, cheeseburgers are not my favorite food. But they are cheap and rich with calories and digest predictably. Dolly, however, grills one heck of a burger. Someone should give her a prize.
I had but nineteen Pepsis and so did not loiter long. Nor had I done so at breakfast. There had been, you'll recall, electricity in the park and my computer was all charged up. As was I at this point. I walked another ten miles and arrived in Ainsworth, Nebraska.
I don't know how many people live in Ainsworth. I came in the back way. But it is big, maybe three-thousand people or more. And I'd heard they had a lovely park with showers and everything. And twenty-one miles is a good solid day. It couldn't have been better placed.
But I wasn't in a real big-city mood. I had been too long on the trail. When I lived in Japan there were probably a thousand people in my apartment building, but I've gotten used to towns of eighty or so. And it was still daylight and I wasn't hungry. And I felt just a little bit like walking.
Which ain't so common, believe it or don't. Usually it's something of a slog. I figured I'd be cheating myself if I didn't put in another five miles. Not seven, mind, though I had plenty of time. That might just leave me sore. But twenty-six is a very good day without too much pressing my luck.
I found a grocery store and bought food so I would not suuffer tomorrow. A big box of donuts and a good hunk of cheese. Sue me, I spoil myself. My next town, I thought, was seventeen miles off, which would leave twelve for tomorrow. I know I can get a little bit cranky when I start my day unfed.
But the Cowboy Trail veered away from the highway, headed towards a town I thought I would miss. So breakfast may be just a couple miles away. I am chewing on my cheese right now. Gluttony, you'd call it, though I am still losing weight. It was a medical choice. I could still lose another fifteen pounds, but there's time enough for that.
At twenty-six miles I threw up my tent. In a rather rotten spot. It is snaky as hell and the crickets make a din. There are cows making all kinds of noise. And turkeys, hundreds of them. I'd somehow thought they were rare. But I think they would be easy to catch. They walk everywhere they go. Like little emu in great thundering herds. Turkeys rarely travel alone.
I guess I am out of those famous Sand Hills. It is sandy but fairly flat. There are fewer ranches and more and more farms. I am entering corn country. The scenery changes so gradually that it takes me a while to notice.
THERE ARE TREES here too, and in the evening they are shrouded in great clouds of bugs. Skeeters or something, millions of them, swirling like black cyclones. And it is humid. Buggy and humid. America's Breadbasket.
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