Thursday, September 8, 2011

Day One-Hundred-Three, Breakfast of Champions

I never know from day to day just how far I am going walk. I start in the morning and go until dark. I take long and frequent breaks. Some days a mere twelve miles is a struggle. Today I did twenty-eight.

Which is a pretty good chunk out of the map, but not such a good idea. It tires my muscles and troubles my feet. It makes this bilge hard to write. It has taken me the better part of an hour to type as far as this.

"So what," you might say. "Take a rest. Fill us all in tomorrow. We're not reading it, anyway." Let that be your fault, not mine. Walking Across America means nothing to me until I can tell the story. Whether anyone hears it or not, I am soothed by the sound of my voice. And I like to believe I have something to offer, poor gift though it may be.

I was hoping to learn to Live in the Moment, to experience some brand of Zen. "It is the journey, not the destination" has never made sense to me. Oh, I'm not an idiot. I can reason it out. But I've never felt it in my heart. I remain saddened and embarrassed by my past, and terrified by my future. Nothing in the present seems very much better, unless I am eating ice cream.

On that bright note, I'll unfold my day. I got an early start. The road crew boys across the park were up before daylight. And my father was lurking somewhere about, the one I hadn't spoken to in twenty-three years. I was going for the even quarter century. Now I have to start all over.


The Indian tacos I had for dinner were not treating me well. Their searing cramps and loud rumblings had kept me up half the night. My body has grown accustomed to burgers and very little else. I was suffering mightily from what the Japanese, a polite people given to euphemism, call "a stomachache."

But bless that tough town of Cody, Nebraska, their park is well-equipped. And beside the mensroom there was a shower, my second in as many days. But I am not spoiled. This shower was icy icy cold.

I managed, though. Bracing, they call it. I started my day quite braced. And ate a breakfast burrito with my dad at a concrete picnic table. Lest you fault the poor man and see the breafast burrito as another form of abuse, I don't doubt he meant well in this case. Cody is not set up for breakfast. He did the best that he could.

Thus nourished I was out on the road some time before eight o'clock. Which to many of you, those who work, may not seem early at all. But I've got gear to pack and maps to study, and nearly every eight o'clock I've seen in the last twenty years has come at the end of a very late night. Eight for me is like your four-thirty. I am not a morning person.

I planned one long run to Kilgore, Nebraska, fifteen miles away. But after seven I stumbled across the town of Nenzel, population 13. Thirteen. There is a newish ranch house with four cars parked out front, and a gas station with a good sized tree growing where the pumps used to be. A saloon that didn't look too long closed and a boarded up general store. And a very well kept Catholic church. And a park, recently mown with a Coke machine across the street. I took off my shoes and drank two Mountain Dews, a Squirt and a can of root beer. And read the Smithsonian magazine I've been lugging around since Hot Springs.

Good times, good times. I was there for two or three hours. I liked Nenzel. You could probably buy it for the price of a new pick-up truck.

I would call it James. James, Nebraska. And appoint myself Justice of the Peace.

I didn't get to Kilgore until three-thirty. Ninety-nine people live there. "They counted the dogs," confessed Phil, owner of the gas station/store. And saloon. I had thirty-three Pepsis and a microwavable sandwich.

"Gut busters," the bartender in Cody called them. There's some rivalry there. But her Indian tacos too did some damage, though they tasted a good deal better.

Phil has "Phil" tattooed on his forearm. He is a very nice man. I got him to dish the dirt on Ted Turner, the Viggo Mortensen of the Sand Hills. It seems Mr. Turner's buffalo scheme is driving up property taxes. And land values, too, but the only buyer out there is Ted Turner himself. Shame, though. It's pretty country if you like this sort of thing.

It was coming up on four-thirty. I had walked only fifteen miles. A mile later it was five-thirty. I have entered the Central Time Zone. In Cherry County, Valentine, the county seat, is an hour ahead of the other towns. And they lord it over everyone.

I had eleven more miles to Crookston, population ninety-eight. That's one less than Kilgore, you'll notice. There's some rivalry there. Crookston did not include dogs in their number, which is a shame; I met a nice one there. A black German shepard, three feet tall at the back. Man, that was a big dog. He was chained to a tree in front of a trailer. I made sure of that before I approached.

A man was out there wrenching on his truck. I wanted to know if there was a park. There wasn't and that's good. Sooner or later this soft living is going to make me weak.

[Something middle-sized is grunting outside my tent. I'm thinking feral pig. Meaner than snakes, feral pigs. Ignore him and he'll go away.]

Sean was the man. We chatted a bit. He had a bitchin' Camaro. He introduced me to his dog who tried to eat my hat. Loveable pup, though. Three years old. He maintains a puppy enthusiasm. It is neat seeing a 120 lb. dog jumping into the air like that. On all four feet, like Pepé Le Pew, when he is very much in love.

Crookston too is fading fast. Such is the way of things. The railroad needed these towns every ten miles to replenish their water and coal. And it was a good deal in the horse and buggy days for the ranchers to have a town. But now I'd guess only every third one will survive. And it isn't all Ted Turner's fault.

Sean turned me on to a good camping spot. I must have missed it in the dark. And after twenty-seven miles I figured I may as well go thirty, if only to see what it's like. But, though my hat does glow like a beacon in the dark, I got a premonition that I was going to be sqooshed dead.

I ain't big on ESP, but sometimes you trust your sixth sense. So here I am camped on the side of the road, on what was once a railroad track. It is officially designated a hiking trail, but no one uses it. No one. Not just because it runs across northern Nebraska, but also because it is covered with jagged ballast that bruises your feet and would shred bicycle tires. It was a nice thought, though.

I CONFESS I don't like ice cream as well as I once did. Eventually all my joys will fade. Then there will be just me.

LOW FLOW toilets are a nice thought, but no one is conserving anything if you have to flush them four times. And that's not to mention the emotional toll.

IT WOULD, I suppose, given my strength and conditioning, not be sporting to beat the crap out of a seventy-five-year-old man. Funny, though, the thoughts you have when you walk.

COYOTES HOWLING, as they do most nights. I like it but it upsets the cows.
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  1. When was growing up we had a dog named Koppel who was half wolf, half husky, and half Germany shepherd. When he got excited he would chase his tail while growling and yelping at it.

    Sometimes I wish I were a half wolf, half husky, half Germany shepherd.

  2. His name was Kipper darn this auto-destruct!