Sunday, September 21, 2014

Midlanding, Sept. 5-18, 2014



I.  Road Hand, 9/5.


Frontenac WFC ticker, Dow up 29.  Friday air yellow, please reduce travel.  Too late for that.  87º at 9:34.

No AC, US-61N to Hannibal.  Fifty miles to Cuivre River.  White Memorial Wildlife Area.  64 miles at 10:06.

88º at 10:36—windy.  No one on this road.  I'm doing 60 mph, comfy.

Missed turnoff for s-cut to US-36; went all way to Hannibal.  GIS plant.  Lots of caterpillars on roads.  184 miles to St. Jo at 10:48.

Roads are in good shape.  Pass exit for Mark Twain State Park.  Third baseball podcast.  Hunnewell Lake Conservation Area.  Mostly sunny, some clouds.  Salt River cross again.

11:47, had a cig and some beef jerky.  Put AC on briefly.  164 miles.  I haven't met fall yet.   Middle Fork Salt River.  Two miles to Macon, the City of Maples.  Long Branch State Park.  Power bar.  Chariton River, looks nice.  Valley, flattened out.  A few more clouds.  84º.  Rolling now, lots of corn.  82º at 12:10.  Mussel Fork.  Linn County.  I have to go, I don't want to stop.  Mussel Fork Conservation Area.  Pass turnoff for Marceline, Walt Disney hometown.  Pershing State Park.  Starting to look cloudy out west.  Looks like rain.  A creature called "spiderpus"—eight arms and eight eyes.  79º at Chillicothe.  I lift my shades.  Full cloud cover.  Grand River.  A vee of snow geese, up there.  77º.  A lynx by the side of the road.

***

Pad on thigh.  Easier than index cards.  76º dropping steadily.  On my fifth baseball podcast.  An old red tractor for sale.  I put my lights on.  Rolling prairie.  Farms.  75º.  Mushrooms in a pasture.  Sprinkles.  Some of the beans are going yellow.  I remember seeing that last year in Wisconsin.  73º!  Greenhouse next left.  72º. 250 miles, 1:07p.  Hamilton pop. 1809.  70º.  I crack the windows and drink it in.  It's luxurious!  69º.

Hay bales, seen a bunch so far.  With the windows down I go to music instead of podcasts.  I'm planning to stop in Cameron, MO.  Get gas, use restroom.  68º, 1:18, 263 miles.

I-35, a highway I associate with my Texas days.  I only did gas and restroom.  The WEN was pretty busy.  The bathroom was even busier and my nerves were jangly.  I told myself to calm the F down and do my biz.  It was a Shell/WEN/Godfather's Pizza combo.  But only two urinals and one shitter and someone was in the shitter.  Guy in there waiting to use it.  Nervy.  But I succeeded.  As I am, a guy is holding his son or grandson up to the other urinal and the kid looks in there and says, "Is that pee-pee?"  The guy says, "No...."  And the kid says, "Then what is it?"  Ha!  That was great.  If I was gonna order it was gonna be a spicy chick and fries but I just kept going.  There's one I can hit in St. Jo if need be.  Grindstone Reservoir.  1:42.  Hay bales.  Still 68º.

15 miles to St. Jo.  Definitely more cars on road here.  I just mosey.  All of them can pass me.  The sky is pretty to the N, NW.  Various shades of dark blue, blue gray, silver, white.  The fields beneath look very green.  The temp is back up to 70º.  Buchanan County.  Not all that unlike the MO of the I-44 corridor, really.  Farms, rivers, rolling land.  Third Fork Platte River.  Feels a little like driving between Nashville and Chattanooga.  Truck parking 1 mile, no facilities.  A Deere dealer.  I got some DJ Bene going now, it's boppy.  The outskirts of St. Jo.  Platte River.

Is that the same Platte as in Nebraska Platte?  Van Doren Van Doren? I've seen a lot of cell towers—what I think are cell towers.  My coverage has been good.  MO Western, next right.  St. Joseph.  It's still windy.  I'm going 55.  Exit for I-29N, Council Bluffs.  I am coming up on exit for hotel.  Rain is holding off for now, I'm pressing on.  Speed limit 70.  That's bad news for jotting.

***

Being back on interstate after 61 and 36 sucks.

***

3:30, backtracking.  Raining at Big Lake.  Ground fairly wet.  I coulda made it but I have a lot of camping in front of me: why force it.  I'll head back to St. Jo and the Drury.  343 miles.

***

At Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge:

Herons, like a huge lily field, something
like elephant ears.



II.  First Night, the Drury.

I love hotels.  Drury Inn is the most under-rated hotel chain in America.  I'm about to go get my free booze and apps.  It is clearing up out west.  I would have been OK.  My cost is that I am going to miss a pretty good sunset—yet I don't think Big Lake State Park would have been the place to see it.  That place would have been Squaw.  At any rate, I have a view of it from my hotel window and I am loving it.  I've got a Two Heart coursing through my veins and a little Jeff-Res.  A few prunes in my stomach—that's not a euphamism.  I've really eaten some TJ's pitted prunes and they were quite good—not so juicy and so sweet—but pretty good.  I can just barely see my car from the window.  I chose that spot on purpose.  I'm in 318.  It's 6:25.  I've been texting with B.



III.  Sat Morn in St. Jo, 9/6.

It's 6:10 and the fire alarm just went off.  I was already up though.  It stopped beeping before I could even get my shorts on.  I'm drinking coffee and listening to tunes.  I feel pretty good this morning.  The king-sized bed Patrick, the hotelier, suggested for me was just perfect.  He was a little bit of a character.  He asked me what brought me through St. Joseph and I told him I was headed to a campground in Nebraska.  He said he could get me the "ESAVER" rate on the room—but no campfires.  We both had a little chuckle.

I'm not going to re-hash all of last night.  There isn't that much to re-hash anyhow.  A couple of items stand out.  First, the hot apps buffet.  Drury doesn't call it dinner—certainly not in the way they advertise the breakfast (I'm about to go get in forty minutes) as the "Free Hot Breakfast".  They don't really call it much of anything.  They give more space in the little brochure housing the room key to the free drinks. Which I swear used to be two a night but now it's three.  The only beer they had was BL—but it was on draft.  I had one and tipped the gal $1 and she says, "OK, remember it shuts off at 7:00, so you've got two more: you come back and see me."  I ate nachos with hollies and a little salad with ranch dressing and stick carrots (there was something odd about the carrots, that's my only criticism, they seemed to have been blanched ten times in a row).

I also ate a hot dog, that was a little risky I thought, cause the one I grabbed was a little wrinkly.  But the bun was fresh and I clobbered it with ketchup and mustard.  It tasted like a hot dog at the ballpark.  The nachos were also a la ballpark—the style from old Busch Stadium, with the round, dark-yellow chips.  Old El Paso, you know.  They had cheese sauce, salsa, and the aforementioned hollies.  Getting seconds confirmed my decision to walk out of that WEN without a spicy chicken and a carton of fries in my hand.

But neither the food nor the bartender was the most interesting part of the apps buffet.  It was this gal and her lackey husband who were knocking down half the buffet—not eating it yet, just gathering it, off to the side.  Their four kids sat at a table (well-behaved I should say) while mom (and dad) hunter-gathered enough food for three families their size.  This was the text I sent B: "These people were stacking up plates from the buffet.  When I first went to the buffet I seriously thought thought their heap of stuff set off to the side was part of the buffet.  This lady had all this terrible makeup on and they were taking forever to get food and fountain sodas and of course their free drinks.  Every time I turned around either she or her husband was standing there.  The gal got a Bloody Mary.  And the last part (and) I'm serious here.  Somehow they used one of the luggage dollies to get the food upstairs."

They had their swimming gear on, too.  At least the gal had a t-shirt and shorts on over her stuff.  So I knew they were going swimming.  At one point over at the buffet the gal frantically told her husband, "I think Sabrina's doing something!"  That was one of the kids, who were still sitting calmly as far as I could tell, not far away but obscured by a wall.  So the guy goes back to check on the kids.  Later the mom was walking back to the buffet with the child I figured was Sabrina and the mom was telling her, "You're not going to get to go swimming if...."  How long are kids supposed to sit perfectly still while the week's food is collected?  That's a Drury Inn Hot Apps scene for ya.  Seeing them roll that arch-topped luggage cart out of the eating area.  I just shook my head and went for my second BL.

I finished eating and was moving quick to get changed into my trunks and hit the pool before The Gatherers finished scarfing 1/7 of the food they'd just amassed (and later I'm picturing those already shriveled baked potatoes sitting uneaten in their room with a nasty bowl of cheese sauce all kind of splattered around the place as these people wildly had a few bites of their gradual feast before turning their attention to swimming).  I did beat The Gatherers to the pool but it was all for naught because right as I walk into the pool area I get blasted by this screeching kid who never let up the six or seven minutes I could eardrum being in the same 300-foot radius as him.  Crowd control tacticians need to find this kid and put him to work.  Organic, non-violent, non-partisan, totally repellant.  My only refuge was under water, but I'm not a whale so I could only stay down there for so long.  Apparently this kid was screaming because his older brother was constantly "after him" in the pool.  There was a mix of three parents/grandparents sitting there, probably deaf, who were telling him to "stop screaming" but he never did.  I booked it out of there, still dripping a bit as I waited for the elevator, which had been snappy quick my prior several times up or down it.  This time it seemed to be stuck on the fourth floor.  After a minute it became clear what was transpiring.  When the doors finally opened on the ground floor I stepped back to let The Gatherers empty the vessel and continue on toward the pool.

It's 6:53a.  I'm headed to breakfast imminently.

***

It's 7:43.  The skies to the west are almost entirely clear.  I'm gonna take a shower (because I can) and get out of here.  It's a pleasant morning.  I've had coffee and breakfast (waffle, biscuit and gravy, potatoes, eggs, yogurt, OJ).  I've got my tunes going again.  My basic shuffle offering is better now that I've eliminated (a) hackneyed, played-out songs we all know and will hear again, somewhere, sometime soon-enough; and, (b) the frenzied, blow-your-horn-into-a-different-shape sax solo songs that I just can't listen to anymore (sorry, Trane...Ornette...Dolphy).

I'm swishing, with water.  In my mouth.  It's "The One Little Trick that Your Dentist Doesn't Want You to Know."  After coffee it is especially necessary.  Water is the universal solvent.  Take a little bit of water into your mouth and swish  it.  Imagine it blasting its way through your teeth.  Get it into your gums.  Work those cheeks.  It takes a little bit of effort.  Thirty seconds, forty-five.  As you are leaving the house, when you are commuting.  After OJ.  In the shower.  Before you brush your teeth.  Coffee and OJ are acidic.  You must get their residue off of your teeth before you brush them.  Otherwise you are probably doing more harm than good.



IV.  Second Night, Indian Cave State Park, NE.

6:27p.  At some point the log fire teepee is gonna fall down.  What happens then?  Does the fire smoke itself away or does it settle into its new personality?  It fell down once already and lay there smoking away.  I had to reconstitute the teepee.  This time I can leave it lay.  Cardinals announcer Rooney takes a shot at Braun.  Chippy, petty.  I've got a nice site on the hearth of a hillside and the...hold on...the fire was smoking back at me so I added another hog of a log and I added a little bit of small stuff too.  I find it helpful to throw some small pieces on every time I add a bigger log.  The fire is going now.  The big pieces are from Michigan and the tag in the wrapper proclaims the wood as "Certified Bug Free".  It's a mix of: birch, maple, oak, and ash.  Firewood is a bottom-line business: either it burns or it don't.  This stuff is burning!  So I'm giving a thumbs up to Beaver Creek Wood Products.  It was $5.99 for a bundle at a convenience store in Falls City, NE.  When I got wood there I did not think I was getting Michigan wood.  Hold on here.  I'm looking at the label again.  The company is based in Michigan.  The wood is actually from Wisconsin.  Whateverest.  At least they're identifying where the wood is from.  This is going to be a growing industry: certified firewood.  With certifications not just to bug-free-ness—but to what kind of wood is in the bundle—with a percentage breakdown—and facts as to how long the wood has been seasoned.  I'd pay up for fine wood, yes I would.

The Avery IPA I cracked to christen Nebraska was bad—it had no bubble.  It happens.  I mean, I still drank it but it went down like water.  Now I'm enjoying a Wookey Jack.  It's a beefer.  There's a lot to say; I can't say it all.  The campers closest to me are two couples, both with infants.  This place was more full'n I woulda guessed.  It is Saturday though.  I'm in the "modern" tent camping area so I'm not exactly roughing it.  One, I wanted a shower nearby; two, I didn't realize that the park's "backpack" campsites are actually "just off the road" campsites strung out here and there along the park road all the way down to the river.  There must be a couple dozen of them.  They have fire rings and picnic tables and some are near vault toilets, but not all.  They are very close to the various trailheads in the park, so they are not "walk in" sites like I first thought.

I'm texting with Roy and B.  Earlier I answered a call from Pat as I was sitting in an empty lot behind the Sonic in Falls City.  I was trying to get a hold of the Indian Cave State Park office to ask if they had any firewood for sale.  I called three times and got nothing but busy signals.  Then my phone started ringing.  Huh?  It was Pat.  I answered.  I usually do answer his calls; there's about a 0% chance of nastiness when he's on the other end of the line.  The conversation unfolded and eventually he realizes that not only am I out of town but I will not be back in town before Colorado.  "Oh—you've left," he says.  "Yeah."  I tell him everything is fine.  Not at work, but everything else: friends and family are fine.  He tells me that if I ever need to talk about anything I should know I can talk to him.  It's all good, I thank him.  "I am so jealous of you right now," he says.

The couple of couples with the kids are rather young.  I glanced over at them when I was leaning in to the Subaru via the back driver-side door.  I was looking at them through the "rear window"—creepy!  I had gone back to the car for my cigs...and my reading glasses, which I already had here at my table/site but which were buried under Airships.  I'm getting this Cardinals game—in Nebraska—from a station on FM out of Shenandoah, Iowa.  It's crystal clear.  The Cardinals Radio Network is the 9th Wonder of the World.  This is not 3G or 4G, this is Cardinal Nation.  I'm getting chills thinking about it.  The moon is up.  It goes full in 48 hours.  I don't have the rain fly on.

I have put one of my two bundles on the fire.  I haven't cooked anything yet.  At some point I will have to eat!  Lunch was...there was no lunch...a Power Bar...a half a bag of beef jerky...a Kind Bar...and now some full-bodied beer.  It's not so bad.  Men and women can live on bars and beer alone, I assure thee.

It is perfect out here.  70º.  The sun is going down.  I'm in a t-shirt, shorts, and Keens.  It'll be cool soon.  I'll add a layer.  I will need to take a shower later.  The shower doesn't look as nice as the other park showers I've been in; there were a couple of daddy longlegs on the shower curtain.  But I want that shower.  I'll wear my Keens.  It'll be fine.  First I'll eat a couple of hot dogs, cooked on the grill of this fire pit.


V.  Sunday Morning, 9/7, at Indian Cave.

I've had two noteworthy bird experiences today.  The swallows at the boat ramp and the cedar waxwings in the limbs of the ash above me as I lay on a shower liner, nursing my suddenly barking back.  The swallows were in the hundreds.  It was the first hour after sunrise.  They swooned and swung and dipped over the river to feed, as the fog wore off.  It was just me and them down there.  I believe they were bank swallows, bearing the scientific name Riparia riparia.  Riparia being the Latin name for riverbank.  Sparrow-sized bird, somewhat forked tail.  Foraging in numbers.  These are the same birds we saw working the Current River.  

The cedar waxwing was, for a time, my favorite bird.  I cannot say I have a favorite bird at the moment. But I can say that this was the closest I ever got to a cedar waxwing—or as it was: this was the closest a cedar waxwing had ever gotten to me.  I had waked at daybreak.  The sun had not risen yet.  There was light; it was no longer night.  I unzipped my tent and moved.  In my car, down the road, down the steep hill to the river.  I was afraid of missing the sunrise.  As I went down the hill day went back to night.  I had encountered a dense fog.  It was still midnight along the river.  Heavy machinery for river channel projects made me wonder when Ichabod Crane was going to jump out of the cloud and batter the side of the Outback.  I pressed on, toward the end of the road, the end of the line.  The outlook spot was listed as stemming from trailhead eleven.  The trailheads are not exactly well marked at Indian Cave.  The only tipoff for most of them are the signs along the road for "BP parking."  In other words, there is a parking lot right there because there is a trailhead nearby, and in many cases these are also the parking lots for the backpack camping areas.  I debated launching through some brush out toward what might have been a beachy area along the river, in decent position for a sunrise.  But there wasn't any sort of path and, once I returned and saw the area in a better light, I was thankful I had not so launched because every few feet of the brushy line of vegetation was marked by a frightfully large spiderweb, pretty with the sunrise light coming through it but otherwise to be avoided.  There was left a mowed area that was the default approach.  After crushing a Doubleshot and hitting the graciously placed privy I walked through the dewy grass and did indeed find the post marking trailhead 11.  I bounded up that slick, hard-packed mud in my Keens, cursing the cigarettes of yesterday, huffing and puffing at the incline, and generally wondering if I was just a touch manic at the moment.  I probably was.  But I got up there, literally racing against whatever time I had left before the sun got up above the horizon and any photo I hoped to shoot in that direction was to be compromised by too much light.

I got my shot, the sunrise above the world.  Well, the sunrise above the fog that had ensconced the Missouri River that morning.  I took a selfie on the way down that I sent privately to B, who said it was the best selfie I had ever taken.  I was tripping on endorphins I think.  At river level I took some shots into the sun-backed fog, some wicked black-and-white silhouette shots.  The morning turned out to be a real photographic bonanza.  And the whole time I encountered no other humans.  I tried to get a few photos of the bank swallows but they were so small and they were moving so quickly.  I came back to my campsite and upon getting out of the car I realized that I had strained my back somewhere in the process.  So I unfolded the old shower liner and laid it on the grass under the ash tree at my site.

As I lay there a flock of waxwings began to work the area.  These birds are generally a mix of light brown and easy gray.  Their eyes are set in the midst of streaks of black, like a Zorro mask.  Their head feathers culminate in a crest, like those of a cardinal or a blue jay.  All well and good.  What sets the waxwings apart are the slight bits of color, red or yellow, at the tips of their wings and at the tip of their tail.  It is as if their wings have been dipped in wax, as a prelude to being affixed as a seal upon a letter. Waxwings work in small groups and fly from one close tree to another, chirping as they go, kind of like crickets.  As I lay there on that shower liner, fearing the state of my now-strained back, I took pleasure in the appearance of the waxwings.  At times they were just a few feet above me in the branches of that ash.

But my back complicates things now.  I thought about moving my site but now I'm not so sure.  It's not that it would take long but it's that much more grabbing and bending, work my back is now saying it doesn't want to do.  Yet, there are backpack sites out there—now open—and if the baby couples are still here tonight I am seriously going to consider moving.

Right now I'm going to get out and hike.  Some gentle exercise should help my back.  I'm gonna take my hammock with me and find a spot to put up.  I'll have my radio and some headphones and I'll kick back.  I'll swing in the hammock and listen to baseball.


VI.  Monday Morning, 9/8.

I have some catching-up to do on my journal.  But for now I want to record these stats.  It's 7:42a.  The trip miles are 522.6.  It's 61º.



VII.  Monday, Late Afternoon at Mormon Island State Recreation Area near Grand Island, NE.

I'm sitting in my camp chair at site #4 at the Mormon Island State Recreation Area near Grand Island, NE.  I was planning to stay at Waubonsie State Park tonight, north of Hamburg, IA.  But a spraypainted sign at the entrance of the park announced that the park had "NO WATER."  I was not in urgent need of water but I was going to want a shower soon enough.  I was on the park's website several days ago.  I do not believe I overlooked an advisory indicating the park's lack of water.  I parked.  I went up to the overlook.  It was nice but I was distracted.  The kiosk at the trailhead had a little box for trail brochures—that box was empty.  On the site I had read about the "incomparable" scenery surrounding the park.  Photographs on the website led me to believe I would attain at least one good view of the type of topography particular to this area—loess hills.  I got on the Ridge Trail.  Soon enough another trail appeared, unmarked.  I stayed on what was originally identified as the Ridge Trail.  I'll make a long story short.  I hiked for about 20 minutes.  There were several instances where other paths appeared, unmarked.  I couldn't say with confidence what trail I was on or where it led.  Ultimately I ran into a "Trail Closed—Park Boundary—Respect Private Property".  What?  I'm walking along what I have reason to believe is the Ridge Trail and I have at that point achieved zero views of the "incomparable" nearby geography and then I run into a sign telling me that if I go any further I am going to intrude onto private property.  What a bust of a park!

I could not get out of there fast enough.  I developed a sense that whoever was running that park doesn't actually want anyone to use it.  Then why is it even open?  It was clear that there were repairs occurring at the park.  There was a "Pump House" near the trailhead that looked new (the concrete base upon which it sat was freshly laid).  Out of it hoses went this way and that.  There was a nonpotable water truck out in front of the showerhouse with all kinds of flexy tubes coming and going.  The place was a mess.  The trash can in front of the Pump House was overflowing.  The "NO WATER" sign, lazily painted in black spraypaint and slapped onto the top of the park entrance sign was more obvious than an omen.  I should have turned around right away.  The place gave me the heebie-jeebies.

So I got on IA-2 going west into Nebraska City.  The morning wasn't a total loss, I should say—and back up a few hours.  No—I need to back up about nine hours.

I got up at 2:43 this morning.  I was the only (human) soul in the "modern" tent camping campground last night at Indian Cave.  The campground went from mostly full Saturday night to completely empty last night (except for me).  If you've been reading any of these "Pages from A Camp Diary" you know by now that I can get a touch spooked when I'm out camping in a place that's a little too empty.  That's the incredible double standard that I acknowledge and must come to terms with.  When there are people around and they're making a little too much noise, or encroaching on what I consider to be the campsite boundary, I curse them and wish them away.  Then the pendulum swings all the way the other way and I find myself in a campground in nowhere Nebraska and there isn't another person in sight.  It's like that line that Herbie Stemple had in Quiz Show, "You know what the problem with you bums is?  You never leave a guy alone unless you're leaving him alone."

Mid-afternoon Sunday, once the place had cleared out and while it was still light, I had literally picked up my tent from where I was the first night and carried it down the campground road to a more level site that also had on it two trees capable of holding up my hanging hammock.  There were other options within the park.  I could have gone down the road to one of the "backpack" sites.  The one closest to the "horse people" made sense.  I call them that; they're really just campers who bring horses in with them.  They have their own, specially designated "equestrian campground".  Some of them were still around late Sunday afternoon, so if I wanted to be reasonably close to other campers it was either them or the RV campers.  I never really considered taking a site in the RV campground, but I should have.

Meanwhile, as Sunday progresses I'm fighting a back strain that came on shortly after my romp up the sunrise hill.  My body was telling me not to move anything at all.  The crux of the problem, and perhaps the culprit for my ailing back, was the terrible spot I chose to pitch my tent upon Saturday—what a slant I had put myself on.  I knew the spot was slanted but I had figured that as long as my feet were on the bottom end of the slant I'd be alright.  Throughout the night, though, I kept sliding downward.  I was in my bag and the bag itself is a low-friction material—there is no grab.  I kept waking up and shimmying myself back up.  It was silly.  I didn't want to deal with it again.  At a minimum I was going to have to get down on the ground and take all of the tent stakes out and reposition the tent upon the current site.  But, I figure if I go through the trouble of doing that, I might as well just move the whole damn tent to a different site I like better.  I could also put myself closer to a parking space and closer to the showerhouse.  While I was out hiking Sunday afternoon I'm chewing through all of this in my head (as I listened to the Royals play the Yankees on Derek Jeter Day at Yankee Stadium).

The spot I had moved to was "deeper" in the modern tent campground, which itself is split on either side of a dead-end road.  I was now toward the end of that dead-end road, past the showerhouse.  As I lay in my tent torn between the want of sleep and the fear of being alone and unconscious, what I really was hoping against was the appearance of a pair of headlights at the entrance to the campground road.  I did not want to see a pair of headlights turn into the road and then...slowly...crawl down the road...toward me and my tent...as I lay there in my sleeping bag...at 2:30 in the morning.  It wasn't pitch dark, though.  Sunday night was one night shy of a full (harvest) moon.  At one point in the night, as the moon arced its way across the horizon, it leapt out from behind a tree and popped me right in the face like someone suddenly shining a flashlight on me.  I'm not sure how I slept at all that night.  It was windy.  There was a tree back in the woods that was creaking like a creepy old door as the wind worked it back and forth. There was at least one raccoon about.  When I got up I saw it skanking around on the periphery, checking to see if I was awake for real or just peeing.  I looked over at my trash bag (slung low, picnic table-style) and it had been gnarled on.

Which reminds me.  I have got to say something about the AWFUL Febreeze "OdorShield" trash bags I unfortunately put in one of my camp buckets and in the camp kit.  Also in that bucket were my hot dog buns and some Texas toast.  Those damn trash bags contaminated my buns and bread with their disgusting OdorShield chemicals, the taste of which I denied at first but ultimately must admit ruined my hot dog fun last night.  I can still taste it!  It was like I was licking one of these disgusting bags.  I had smelled something funny in the camp kit prior to this trip.  I let the thought pass me by.  I had some of these bags stashed in the camp kit for a while but only recently did I add them to one of the buckets, because they're a little smaller than the "contractor-size" lawn refuse bags I usually use (for when B and I go camping).  But if it was just gonna be me, I figured I'd use a smaller bag and these were what I had.  I rue the day!

Where was I?  It was 2:43 and I was too afraid to sleep.  I needed sleep.  My back needed the rest.  But I was not willing to close my eyes again and have those headlights start creepy-crawling down the road toward me.  So I got up and checked the coals.  There was life!  I had more wood and more kindling on hand but I also had some newly found time to kill.  So I started skanking around looking for twigs with my headlamp on.  I went to every other fire ring in that campground looking for leftover wood to burn and I found some.  After an hour or so I had gathered plenty of twigs and leftover ends of park-bought wood and I had my fire going again without even having to put a lighter to it.  More importantly, I had found something to do and I had enjoyed myself a little as I went along.  The night/morning by myself hadn't turned out so bad.

Now flash all the way forward to present.  The flies here at Mormon Island are incorrigible.  There are five in the car right now that I could not get rid of despite sitting in the car for minutes swinging around a beach towel trying to smack the bastards or whisk them out a suddenly, strategically opened window.  The day is getting away.  I've had one beer.  It's 6:21p.  It has cooled down.  I'm grateful for the ever-breeze.  It inhibits the skeeters.  This campground is basically full—the electric sites anyway.  A small town pulling a Ford Heavy Duty just settled for one of the last spots.  I took an electric spot.  I don't believe I've ever done that before.  It's just me and my relatively little Subaru at site #4.  I'm using the electric to keep my phone and iPod charged.  Forget the RV people and their burdenous suburbs-on-wheels.  If they wanted this site they could have reserved it.  The interstate is only a couple hundred yards away.  As always there is more to say.  I haven't said anything about my incredible hike this morning in very northwest Missouri.  Yes—I was in Missouri this morning and it was as beautiful as ever.  But I'm hungry and I'm also thinking that some campfire smoke might keep all these flying pests away.


VIII.  Road Hand, 9/9.

Tyson stinks in
Lexington, NE.  Rain, trains,
& hay bales on Route 30
my kind of drive.

But 30 is closed Lexington to
Cozad so I'm back on
ding-dong I-80.

30 & 80 in same direction,
close together.

My rearview mirror is an
Instagram filter.  Cozad
3,977.

Anyhow, I'm back on Route 30, also called the Lincoln Highway.  Lots of industry along this road, ag-related mostly.  Train-related.  Grain elevators.  Parts yards.  Materials yards.  Town squares set a block in.  Old downtowns, brick and awnings.  Liquor stores in between.  Cork & Cap.  Also sells bait.  Hay bales harvested on the 25 feet of grass in between 30 and the railroad.  I might have just gotten rid of the last Mormon Island fly.

I think a lot of the hay bales just rot.  Fertilizer storage tanks.  Willow Island, a small old town.  MJ Trailers, with a bunch of trailers on the lot.  The smell of manure.  I could smell it at the campsite last night and it never has gone away.  Numerous small airports, small planes, and windsocks.  Rain again.  Rain most of this drive but I like it.  Things don't get too bright, or dusty, or hazy.  U Pac workers are frequent up and down these tracks.  I can't say what they are doing.  Not manual labor, not manually intensive tasks like spreading rock or replacing old ties.  More like switching and signals.  Adding new tech maybe.  They're out in the rain today.  It's pretty out here.  Sargent Irrigation.  Gothenburg.  Vet clinics.  Fasteners.  A Sinclair with "New Pumps".  Auto repair.  Liquor store.  Tire store.  Some kind of Co-Op.  An agronomy co-op.  Big Case and Deere spreaders.  Thirty-five miles to North Platte.

The tan of hay, the green of grass underneath—a tincture of pasture.  Brown and black dots of cows on top of coiled clumps of hay.  A humble blue rain sky imbued with just a touch of pink.  Or maybe I'm imagining everything I see as a filtered Instagram photo.  There's light in the west, light that could befit a sunrise or a sunset but it befits neither.  It is just the light you begin to see after a storm has moved through an area and the sky in the distance is clearing.  Keith Jarrett in Kyoto, Part I.  The rain suddenly stops.  And starts back up again.  There have been a few hills to the north, they look a little like loess—the works of a river, deposit, sediment.  Could be glacial.  They are gentle hills.  The car is making a clicking sound, from the steering column.  It's bothersome.  The hills are getting a little bit of verve now.

I have just taken some elevation.  The topography just hit puberty.  But I can't see the traintrack—there it is.  The hills have taken over.  Pleasant, grassy hills.  The road gets curvy.  It had been straight, straight, straight.  The town of Brady, its water tower.  Population 428.  There is a footbridge over the tracks, the town is on either side.  Twenty-three miles to North Platte.  Horses.  A meadowlark (they are on the Nebraska license plate).  Missouri might have these same hills in areas beyond its northwest but the difference with these hills is that there aren't any trees on them—these hills are bald, shorn.  I can see the shape of these hills and they are transfixing.  Now to my  left—south and west—I can see quite an increase in elevation, a bluff—like along the Missouri River at Indian Cave.  I wonder if I am seeing the end of the plains.


IX.  At La Quinta North Platte, Remming.


It is Tuesday afternoon at 3:36p and I'm in a double-room at the La Quinta Inn & Suites in North Platte, NE.  That drive along US30 today ranks up there with the Squaw Creek Refuge and the foggy sunrise Sunday as highlights of the trip.  I'm still trying to figure out what I want to do with the rest of the open-ended portion of the trip—how do I want to do the next two nights?  The only thing I know for sure is that I will take as much more of US30 as I can.  It does not extend into Colorado but there is an analogous stretch of road in Colorado: a two-lane, mid-major road that twins the interstate.  I'll take it.

I wrote a little last night at Mormon Island and I recall at one point saying I had to back up.  I don't remember how far I backed up.  What I believe I've failed to write about yet was that random conservation area in northwest Missouri I stumbled upon, and hiked at.  It was the Prairie—no—the Star Prairie Hills Conservation Area.  Something like that.  I have the brochure in the glovebox of the car.  Note to Iowa: even at the conservation areas in Missouri they keep the ding-dong map boxes stocked with information telling people where the heck they might be heading when the venture forth). [The name of the place was the Star School Hill Prairie Conservation Area.]  This CA was off of 275, north of Rock Port, MO.  The night before I was at Indian Cave in Nebraska, a place I'd call somewhat remote.  If I'd-a known Waubonsie State Park was going to be a bust I would've gone north from Nemaha and patched into NE-2 en route to I-80W.  But I wanted to get to Iowa, and the quickest way to get there was to go back through Missouri.

Once I crossed back over the river, I could have just taken I-29N.  But before I left Jim H in my office put a bug in my ear when he asked me if I was taking "two lane roads".  I could tell he was a little disappointed when I said, "No...."  That night I scrapped the notion of taking I-70, instead penciling in US61 & US36 as my means of getting to St. Jo.  That was my first good decision of the trip.  I had had to get out on some more two-laners to go to Big Lake State Park.  But it was really the following day, Saturday, when I threw out the playbook and decided to stop off at Honey Creek Conservation Area, that I adopted the two-lane road approach in a serious, ideological way.  And while I'm on it—I can't at this juncture recall what I wrote about Honey Creek.  There are two things I won't forget.  When I got to the trailhead—a trailhead which was competently marked and flanked by a bulletin board/kiosk stocked with plenty of maps—I promptly ran across two hunters coming the other way on the trail I'd just set out on.  I say "two hunters" and I'm also going to underscore where I was at the time.  Missouri, northwest Missouri; other patrons I saw on my way up the conservation area road were horse people, parking their trailers.  So I say "hunters" and you're probably imaging a couple of good ole boys in camo.  But there you are wrong, and not just because one of these hunters was a woman.  I am treading lightly here.  I will describe as objectively as possible.  The hunters were what I assumed to be a married couple of Asian, quite possibly Filipino descent, in their fifties, both wearing wellies and carrying shotguns.

"Oh, you're hunting," I say.  Which was my way of asking them whether or not I was going to get shot if I continued with my hiking.  Then I say, "What are you hunting for?"  They cheerily say, "Squirrel!" And the guy holds up a Ziploc freezer bag with a couple of bloody dead squirrels in it.  If I did not visibly wince then I ought to be given a pat on the back because I assure you I was throwing up a peanut butter Power Bar in my mouth.  That was the first thing won't forget about Honey Creek.  Those hunters, by the way, were from Kansas.

It wasn't too long after that that I—totally sober I swear—decided, upon having some film camera problems to OPEN THE FILM COMPARTMENT "TO INVESTIGATE".  Duh!?!  In so doing I pissed all over 28 or so photos that spanned trips to Sam A. Baker State Park, Meramec State Park (with my cuz), the Lewis and Clark Trail, and Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge (man, I took this badass black and white shot of a Caterpillar backhoe in the forefront with all of Squaw in the background, it was going to be incredible).  I texted Pat, my camera guy, hoping for some sort of miraculous absolution but he had to tell me straight up, "Light leak yes probably, possible if you open and closed quickly not in bright light, maybe the earlier photos you took are just burned on the edges."  Oh, it was plenty bright out there, walking along mowed grass in the midst of corn and beans under a clear blue sky in a strange sort of place that cried Fall.

I've backed way up now, haven't I?  Good.  Back to Star Lake Prairie Hills [sic] north of Rock Port.  I was on 275, which runs from MO into IA.  I saw the sign for this place, just south of a weigh station that sits right east of I-29N.  So what I'm trying to say is that at this point 275N is running parallel to I-29N with not much land separating the two.  I passed the turnoff and then went up and turned around and came back, taking the Subaru up something fit for the Jeep.  I had no problem, it was a steep, rutted hill, admittedly only about twelve feet of incline but still.  I parked on the gravel and as soon as I opened the door I could hear a voice over intercom talking to the drivers of the various trucks, asking them to do this or that.  I stand up straight and turn fully around and I'm suddenly looking at these beautifully crafted hills that don't look like anything I've ever seen before in Missouri.  They are grass-covered and wind-swept.  There are several of them, they are a gander of hills.  (They are the same hills I have now seen, that I would soon see as I delved farther west into Nebraska.)

The CA is dis-jointed.  There are two different sections of it, not contiguous.  There are two entrances via 275.  I had taken the southernmost.  The brochure lists hiking as an activity and the maps inset on the brochure show "access" trails.  These are parts of field that are at least regularly mowed, meaning they are easily walkable.  On the map the trail for the southern segment headed to the left but didn't really seem to go anywhere.  I was standing there holding the map, looking down the grassy trail, and then looking back up at those whimsical, imposing hills.  Out loud I said, "What I really want to do is get up into them hills."  I make my thoughts official by speaking them out loud.  The impatient side of me was lobbying for a wild scramble straight up the sheerside of the hills.  The rational part of me said—perhaps aloud—there's a trail here, it might not look like much, but it has been mowed: trust it, trust the process: if you walk a ways down the trail and it never leads to the hills, so be it, at least you'll have gotten in a good walk.  I take the trail as it gradually wound and curved and climbed.  I was winded.  I was sweating and it was only 8:30.  Eventually the climb leveled off and I hit a plateau.  On the southern side was a rolling expanse of corn: the sort of terraced farmland I had seen and enjoyed coming north on 275.  The mown grass continued, running wide between that corn and a line of trees and brush.  I have been walking much longer than I would have thought based on that dotted line on the map, I thought.  I am not at all sure that what I'm on right now is still part of the CA.  I imagined a scenario where some wild-eyed "don't trespass" farmer (me in 30 years) comes up on me with a shotgun telling me I'm on private property and I'm saying, "But I thought this was a CA!"  I really wasn't that worried because the path seemed too right—I had a growing sense I was going to achieve those hills.  Soon enough the tops of the hills rounded into view, and I was at their altitude.  Walking out onto their tops I had a 180º-view, farmland to the south, farmland and floodplain to the west, north along the highway and more hills, to Iowa.  And down, most importantly down.  I could see the car down there, a long way down.  It was windy and the grass, the uncut hay on those untouched hills swayed so happily.  On the way down I startled a deer on the trail.  I ate a bar, got in my car, and kept going.  It is a place I am already ready to go back to.


***

The moon rode over last night,
I planned to wake and capture it,
big and clear and orange—alas,
unlike yesterday morning, this one was
shrouded by close-clipped clouds....

That's a true story, although I took several pieces of the phrasing from Amy Lowell's "In a Garden", which I'm sitting here reading, as a sort of exercise.  It's from a Dover Thrift anthology of "Imagist Poetry", which is a kind of poetry in which the poet uses "I" a lot less and instead tries to speak only by describing things in the physical world.

It's 8p and I'm comfy, watching baseball.  I'm itching: too many mosquito bites.  I wonder if some of my deet has gone bad.  Deet is a very stable compound, though it is susceptible to heat and light.  Maybe some of the heat (inside the car in which I had stored some deet, in lidded buckets) zapped my deet.  I suggest this because I don't know how else to explain what is the worst assortment of mosquito bites I have had in recent memory (also, some corroborating evidence in the form of some batteries that went bad, like corrosive bad, in the boot of the Subaru that absent the heat of the inside of a car I don't think would have spilled their ions).  I was out with the telescope at the full moon acme last night, about 9:35p.  I was fiddling with the scope, standing fairly still, away from the campfire, preoccupied with getting a shot of a full, round moon through the tele.  At least I don't have any poison ivy!

This La Quinta is fairly full.  It's not a very old hotel.  I'd say between five and ten years old.  What have I left out about my travels so far?  The RV scene last night was noteworthy.  When I got there the campground was only about 30% full.  I took an electric site with a pad—a site that usually would hold an RV, if it held anything.  But I've never seen why a tent camper could not avail himself of an electric site.  Other than the family across the way from us at Sam A. Baker State Park in August, I'm not sure I've seen it done.  But I know of no regulation against it in any park we've been to.  I wanted a socket handy to keep my devices charged.  I wanted my car to be right close to my tent as a concession to my ailing back.  After seeing some of the sketchy characters at the sprawling Bosselman's Truck Stop a half-mile down the road, including a skater riff-raff who was yelling at his dog, I did not want to be by my lonesome in the tent camping area, which is closer to the road (and also pretty dark).  Plus, like I said, the place was hardly full when I get there.

The RVs started streaming in right about the time I'd gotten my camp all set up and had kicked back with a beer, propping my feet up on a cooler.  I started to let play through my head the scene where I got into a beef with a prospective RV camper who was giving me grief about taking an electric site even though all I had was a car and a tent.  It never came to fruition but there was a group with a full size Dodge AND and enormous house-on-wheels that had reserved what I agree was a pretty crappy padless RV-site over by the showerhouse.  They weren't at all happy with the site.  I know this because I saw who must have been the camp hosts' son go over and talk to them.  As they were conversing one of the would-be campers did point over to me at my site with my Outback, which compared to all of the  subdivisions-on-wheels must have looked like a Micro Machine.  It's your fault for reserving a bad site. All I did was show up and take the site that worked best for me.  Not to mention that I wanted to be close to the showerhouse, because I needed a shower.  And that I wanted to do some laundry (the laundry was under the same roof as the showerhouse, coin-operated, very convenient!)

I don't know how people manage with those RVs.  I had one pass me on I-80 today.  The speed limit is 75 m.p.h. on I-80.  That RV was doing at least that.  Why not just go set an oil well on fire?  And while I"m at it.  I saw men from RV sites going to the showerhouse this morning to use the resty.  Why?  There are toilets on the RVs, right?  Isn't that part of the point?  One of the latest arrivals last night took a site right by me.  They spent at least thirty minutes fiddling with how to stand up the RV after they detached the front of it from the truck they were dragging it around on.  All kinds of banging and wrenching and cursed fenestration.  I don't get it.  I urge all of the tenters out there to take electric pad sites if you have reason to do so.  The RV folk don't have any more right to a campground's most convenient spots than do you—certainly not by virtue of the tons they lug around.


X.  Coffee Morning!  Wednesday, September 10, 2014.

In my hotel room I've been watching a lot of The Weather Channel.  There is some rough weather in my wake.  A small tornado touched down in Tarkio, MO last night.  Tarkio is not far from Rock Port, where I was Monday morning.  North of US-36, along which I drove Friday, ten inches of rain fell yesterday in Browning, MO.  Back in College City, B has been fending off unusually heavy amounts of rain.  When we get really big rains at home the drain in our garage backs up, partially because dirt and debris clogs it.  But moreso because that garage drain serves as the de facto drain/lowspot for too large a surface area.  If it rains enough in a short period of time, the drain simply cannot handle that much water.  So B was out there plunging it.  She got it done.  It's raining there right now; I'm waiting to hear from her about what impact the storm rolling through is having.  On the other hand, there is now a story on TWC about the drought in California—50% of the state is in extreme drought status.

It did not rain overnight here in North Platte.  But according to TWC, there is rain forecast for southwest NE and northeast CO for tonight and tomorrow.  So I'm gonna keep on with the hotels.  I feel like I'm wussing out a little but I've got my reasons.  One.  I want to give my back strain more time to heal so I can hike like Mike in CO.  Two.  My camp gear is now dry and tightly packed, so perfectly so that I do not want to disturb it.  Three.  I find that the least amount of writing I am doing is while I am at campsites.  Four.  I love hotels.  Did I say that already?


XI.  Quick Hits on Wednesday Morning While I'm Still Feeling the Coffee.

Uno.  I have mosquito bites on my fingers from when I was using the telescope at Mormon Island.  I have some on my toes, too.  Those buggers were biting anything that wasn't nailed down.

Dos.  TWC just showed some footage of crazy rain and flash flooding on I-15 north of Las Vegas, typified by a sinkhole that sucked in a minivan and a Good Samaritan.  They were rescued.

Tres.  It has been a pleasant surprise that I've had such consistent 3G connectivity for much of this trip.  There were times at Indian Cave when I was on "Extended 1X" but I had 3G at Mormon Island and for much of my drive from there to here.  This is in contrast to my spotty service in the southern half of MO at spots like the Current River (Round Spring) and Sam A. Baker State Park.

Four.  Dangit—I am forgetting four at the moment.  I had thought about saying how it turned out to be quite a benefit that Waubonsie State Park in Iowa had no water.  I could have been there last night, where it stormed heavily.  I'm also glad I embarked on this trip when I did.  I have been out in front of the worst weather.

Five.  OK, yes.  That wasn't point number four at all.  That was redundancy while I let point number four percolate.  Here goes.  I enjoyed an epiphany (one tier below an hierophany) while I was rolling up my air mat here in the hotel (I rolled it poorly Tuesday morning at Mormon Island).  What I realized is that I don't want to be "behind" the direction of the roll—I don't want to roll something away from me.  Instead, I want to be on top of whatever it is I'm rolling up.  So, for the air mat: if I start the roll at the foot, I want to start with my knees on the mid-section and as I'm rolling the foot toward me I want to keep it taut by also pulling it away as I'm working the roll toward me, if that makes any sense.  Same deal with the sleeping bag.  Getting onto the bag or mat puts another pressure point in place and allows me to keep the object much more taut during the roll.  Then as the roll is working its way toward me, I am doing a knee-shimy backward toward the head of the object.  Once you have backed your way off of the object, the roll-up should be pretty much done.

***

It has cooled down in North Platte.  I'm still in my room at the LQ.  It's 9:15.  If the drive to Denver takes around four hours with no stops, it'll take me around five not using the interstate and stopping to take photos and stretch my legs.  Check-in at the Drury Commerce City is three.  I don't want to get there at rush hour but it wouldn't be that much of a problem if I did—because it's not like I'm coming home from the office: I'm all laissez-faire, c'est la vie, and copacetic, right?  The new Jack Handle?  Yeah right.

There is a Wildlife Refuge area right near the hotel (but also right near the airport—it cuts a wide swath on the map...if it's right near the airport then how much of a wildlife refuge can it really be?)  There's also Barr Lake State Park, not far off of I-76 just northeast of Denver.  I should do some hiking today, I'm feeling kind of roly-poly.

But right now I'm ready to get back out on those roads.  There isn't much left to do here.  There's a gas station right across the street.  I'll get some fresh ice at least.  I don't have much left to keep cool though: the butter spray, a few slices of turkey, several pieces of bacon, one slice of cheese.  That's about it.  I was keeping most of my bars cool because they have chocolate or honey in them that'll get messy when hot.  Same for a bag of dark chocolate M&Ms.


XII.  Road Hand, 9/10: Nebraska, You Shouldn't Have.


50°, 9:54, 881.1 miles.

The Platte is pretty shallow here with lovely, soap-shaped gravel bars.  It's raining.  I'm looking to get back on US-30W.

I'm on it.  Fifty-three miles to Ogallala.  I forgot to mention how 30 diverged from the train tracks east of North Platte.  Now it's taking me up and back north of them, like how it was before.  That clicking sound that I mentioned, that was bothering me, could be wiper-related.  I'm going for some heat in the car.  Three miles to Buffalo Bill's Ranch, a key tenet of my forlorn plan.  I'm passing the turnoff.  Sorry, Bill.  Lincoln Highway RV Park, laundromat open to the public.  That's another name for highway 30, the Lincoln Highway.  It's 49° and rainy.  I'm glad I brought my credit card.  The clicking sound is tied to the back wiper.  Olson Feedyards.  A lot of cows.  Wow.  First I saw a lot of haybales and I was thinking they'd go to waste.  Nope.  There must be 1,000 cows there.  What's a head of cattle?  I don't know.

So far on the trip 32.1 mpg.  Not bad.  I want this truck behind me to turn off, but I thank him for not gating me.  "Lose 'im, lose 'im, lose 'im."  Nope.  Greenbrier Rail Services.  Hershey.  The truck is turning but 30 just got a little rough.  This road is not graded.  I'm doing 45.  No passing zones are not marked.  Nothing's marked.  This is the wild west!  Cinders flick and tick up against the the underbody.  A sign announces "LOOSE GRAVEL".  The Outback is being put through its paces.

The clouds are not as interesting today, and I can't see the train tracks again.  But this is my way, I will not renege.  The roadwork has ended, it was just a few miles.  An open lot of old, rusty farm implements.  There's some train tracks now.  An intersection of them.  One patching in from the north/NW.  Had a coal train on it.  A U Pac engine sounds its horn.  This is Sutherland.  A backhoe coming the other way.  Another one of those walkover walkways over the tracks.  A Coor's Light banner says, "Welcome Rodeo Fans."  US-30 feels again like it did yesterday, nestled cozily between the tracks and the hills.  I'm not going much faster than that U Pac train.

Becker Family Farm LLC.  What I can't tell is how deep those hills are—do they extend north for miles or is there just the ridge I can see?  There's a U Pac truck coming the other way.  U Pac is all over the place.  It's been an incredible stock.  I don't own any; a while ago I thought it was too expensive but hindsight begs to differ.  Past Sutherland US-30 is updated, concrete, clean, fairly new.  Easy driving.  The hills are very close on my right now, the closest yet.  They're scrubby.  I see a few odd cows.  It's ranch land.  Like Texas west of Austin—the Hill Country.

Keith County.  An irrigation trolley, its long wingspan paced at several points by wheels.  I wonder how those trolleys can truck through a field and not trample the crops.  But I just saw one on a corn field and it looked like the corn was planted in such a way that slight aisles were allowed, essentially long notches where the wheels could come through.  Paxton.  A dirt lot filled with all shapes and sizes of tubing.  On second thought, the shape is pretty uniform!  PVC, metal, ceramic.  You need a tube?  They got it.  Swede's Bar.  Roadwork next twelve miles.  A sign announcing a public meeting re: "Highway Improvement Project."  Speed limit 45.  No loose gravel though.  Speed limit back up to 65. Eleven miles to Roscoe, 18 to Ogallala.  A drizzle, corn, the sheepshead hills drizzled in the rainy glaze.  Powerlines, power towers cutting right along them.  An irrigation trolley that's pumping in the rain.  I figure it must be on a timer.

I'd really like to hike on those hills.  A runner could get an incredible workout.  An old, big Lincoln coming the other way.  The corn here looks parched.  It's rainy now but it was probably dry for months here before now.  U Pac pulling a host of Vera Sun Energy cars.  I don't recognize the name.  Being right or making money—my submission fantasies, how they've become a thing since I started my job, my "disciplined" approach to the market.  I want so bad to just give in I guess—{...} feels good.  No more.

Cows upon cows.  Upon cows.  Twin Valley Feeders.  They didn't smell nearly as bad as that Tyson chicken operation.  I like those Wendy's Spicy Chickens; and I like making chicken fajitas with chicken from the grill.  But damn—just sayin.  Led Zeppelin, "How Many More Times," from I.  I've got it rated four stars.  I have been listening to Led Zeppelin for years.  Over twenty years.  I remember the mixed tape Mike Whiteaker made me in 7th or 8th grade.  Maxell.  Then he grew up way too fast for me, too fast for himself.  But I can still see his scrawly handwriting listing the tracks on that tape.  I still have the music.  The bogey that has been on my six, an older white Dodge, overtakes me.  No license plate.  No temp tag, nothin.  Graff Cattle.  Registered "Angus" and something else.  This is Roscoe.  HI-LINE Co-Op.  FCA Roscoe.  There's not much here.  A U-Pac with a lot of double-stacks.  CSX boxes, EMP, Pacer Stacktrains.

This hurts my eyes a bit, going back and forth between the page and the road.  For this specific task, I admit it: I need bifocals.  My eye doc said I should start thinking about bifocals and wasn't all "bifocals are for old people".  I just didn't, couldn't think of a specific instance in which I'd want them.  Now is that instance.

Lute Ranch.  Avant Garde Photography.  Strange mix!  But I like it.  Part rancher, part avant-garde photographer.  Lute, you're a genius.  The hills are getting a little terrace-y out here.  It's like the silver hair on the back of older gorillas, the silver white of the outcroppings on the hills. A mail car, a single flassshing yellow light.  Here's Ogallala—a lot of water under this place.  That's an aquifer joke.  Westside Storage.  Ogallala Moose.  Jan's Drive Thru.  NEW Smothered Biscuit Breakfast.  American Legion.  Bingo pickles?  Bingo pickles is what it said.  A UPS truck.  Ogallala Livestock Auction Market.  A trailer heavy with cow turns off slowly in front of me, not quite sure what it wants to do.  I'm gonna have to bid adieu myself to 30W, soon.  Past Brule.  The iPod, via Bluetooth, has been playing a lot of Pink Floyd.  "Corporal Clegg", "Have a Cigar", "Shine on You Crazy Diamond."  The sky looks more clear out west, especially to the northwest.

A guy walking a bike.  An old, weatherworn man.  Limping along, brutal.  Dead coyoté.  I think that was Brule.  Yeah, 411 (rearview mirror backward reading, i.e. that gum you like is going to come back in style).  I get distracted by a guy walking toward me on the side of the road, right on the edge of it, a walker, and there were cars coming the other way.

He would not've minded being hit.  Carrying a rucksack over his left shoulder and a 2-gallon jug of water down his right arm.  Buzz cut.  Very faded camo pants.  Sunworn.  This has been some roadtrip. It is filling me like a plane ride can't.  I abnegate, I denounce, renounce, repudiate, and apostisize plane travel.  I pull off at a roadside historical marker.  California Hill.

A couple photos and I'm at the end of that roll—not gonna force it this time.  I turned off of 30W.  It wasn't easy.  I'm on 138S, going through Big Springs.  I'm lolling behind a really old Caterpillar.  Elevator.  Pat sent me a text right after California Hill asking me if I was gonna keep on west until Cheyenne or if I was gonna follow 76 down to Denver. 30W joins with I-80 going into Cheyenne.  If I hadn't-a gotten off, that where's I woulda gone.  Cheyenne is closer than I ever woulda thought.  But at the pace I want, and with my tight, cranky back...Cheyenne will have to be another time.  I'll save Cheyenne for the drive up to Glacier, or Portland.  These hills are beautiful.  I don't even mind the transmission towers.  There's nobody out here.  How special this is.  Now there is some corrugated metal fencing set on some slight banking just on this side of the train tracks, some sort of wind block.

NE
***
CO

From 138 Julesburg I followed signs for the Colorado Welcome Center and Rest Area.  It was just a couple of miles.  It took me over the South Platte, on which a team of backhoes was undertaking a serious dredging effort.  Moving all kinds of dirt and sand and gravel around.  Tubes lying about, the kind I saw in that tube yard in Ogallala.  Highway 138 is, like US-30, a "Scenic By-Way", part of The South Platte River Trail.  In the Welcome Center I exchanged my state and zip code—Julesburg 3,477 feet—for a free map.  I chatted with the two gals at the desk.  Then I went up into what was called a "lookout tower", walked a path for exercise, had a Doubleshot, texted B, and now I'm back on 138, to Sterling.  It's still flat, mostly, but there are hills on either side.  Into Ovid.  Elect Alan Harris County Commissioner.  The hills on either side of here are what the Platte didn't carry away, back when it was wide as a sea.

I went into Ovid and turned around and backtracked to photograph an old, broke-down factory that struck me as presenting an awfully pretty palette.  While stopped I successfully unloaded my roll of black & white film and put in a roll of 36-exposure, 200-speed color film.  Well-spaced cumulus clouds lay over this road, the traintracks, telephone poles, grass, and crops.  It's partly sunny and 64°.  Nice.

I've seen a few hawks in a short time.  Red tails I think.  I'm at half-gas.  My mpg for the trip is up to 32.4.  It's 12:59.  I leave the engine idling while I make my slam-bam-Instagram stops.  Just in case.  Sedgwick.  3500 feet.  A mostly left-behind town.  I imagine the town really got going when local farmers moved into town when they got older, like how my grandfolks moved into Okawville proper.  Except the next generation didn't follow them into town.  And when they died, the town died with them.  Maybe they left the farm to the kids, and maybe the kids didn't want it—they went on to be lawyers and doctors and such.  Or maybe the kids couldn't settle the estate without selling the farm.  Or maybe selling the farm to a corporate entity for bonzo bucks was just too much temptation.  Either way, the behavior that created the town didn't repeat itself.  There might not be much left in Sedgwick but it still possesses a certain beauty.  It's that forlorn, "abandoned America" melancholy that is best expressed by photo so I'm not even going to try.

I haven't seen any trains on this track yet.  Sedgwick—maybe a good place for a pot shop.  But if you're thinking about being the first to open there, make sure you have a small army to keep your operation safe.  In its emptiness, that town was a place capable of anything.  Really I'm kicking myself now and regretting that I was a little too chicken to pull into the old drag that comprised the entire town and get a good photo or two.  It was so desolate it kind of creeped me out.  I'd need a driver to take me down main street so I could hop out and take a few quick frags and then we'd peel out and leave Sedgwick in our dust, badass photos in hand.  To do that town right I needed B.

It's dry around here about now, I suddenly realize.  Very dry.  Sparse and dry.  Wind mills.  On both sides of me, upon the hills.  Somebody's on me.  I don't do good work when somebody's on me.  Dry, salt-looking ponds.  A bunch of hay bales.  Crook.  Elevation 3,711 feet.  Sprinklers going at a house.  I pulled off to the side of the road in Crook to let the truck pass.  Twenty-eight miles to Sterling.

No snowplowing 7p-5a.  There is no water in these cow ponds.  Yet, there are (unhappy) cattails in the ditch alongside the road.  I see some bales of hay stacked in a way to make a rectangle and I stop to get photos.  Within a minute the flies are swarming the car.  There are twenty flies in the car in an instant.  I've never seen anything like it.  I didn't really get my shot.  I tried with my phone and with my real camera and I don't think any of the photos are any good.  I decided to cut my losses and moved on.

D&D Feedlot West.  Just outside Proctor a waste place, scrap metal and Johnnies on the Spot.

Some of these Colorado stacks of hay look pretty good.  They're stacked like box cars, shipping containers.  Long rectangles of golden hay.  I wish I could photo them without being swarmed like a just-dropped turd.  Of course, I could just roll up the windows and keep the door closed while I was stopped, but I'm afraid I'll lock myself out on accident!

I have taken so many photos now on my phone that I just got a reject message.  The gist of it: "Cannot Take Any More Photos Because There Isn't Enough Room."  I don't even have any video on there.  I will delete photos and then delete music.  I've got plenty of music on my small aresenal of iPods anyhow (ok, it's two old-school shuffles and one screen-cracked iPod 5, all filled to the brim).

This is not the part of America that's been buying new trucks.  Iliff, 3833 feet.  I see lot of older trucks.  Dodge Rams from 1999.  Home of John Korrey, 2002 World Champion livestock auctioneer.  It's 1:53—is it?  When do I go to Mountain Time?  It's 64° and so far on this trip I've gone 1,019 miles.  Not drink driving but ink driving.  I can see the bumper stickers now: PUT DOWN YOUR PEN AND DRIVE.  The junction for 113 is coming up—that's to get to North Sterling State Park, where there is camping.

One-lane road and I'm stopped.  The fun bus has come to a halt.  (But really, the only thing going slower than me was tractors....)

***

I'm on 6 through Sterling.  Much more action in Sterling.  Seems like a nice town.  Train activity has picked up, too.  No more U Pac, though.  This is BNSF territory.

I'm eating beef jerky.  Nuss Tractor Sales.  Massey Ferguson.  I've still got one or two of those hay bale flies in here.  McEndeffer Feedyard.  A truck coming out of there bore the name of "Fort Morgan Pet Foods."  Fairly stinky, the yards.  As I gnaw down half a thing of jerky.  I'm not making as good-a-time as I'd hoped.  I'm slow-pokin it.  I might need to hit the treadmill at the Drury.  No exercise today, at all.  Merino.  4,635 feet.  23 to Branch.  That's where I get on 34.

Taking 6 over the tracks.  That was a river, the Platte?  Wasn't marked.  Fort Morgan Pet Foods is right on me.  I'm gonna drive fast for awhile.

Hill Rose 4,165.  A junk lot, an old elevator.  Not much else.  I'm feeling this drive.  But if I get this done, I don't have a day with multiple hours of driving until I head back.  I'm a little de-hy because I'm not drinking much water, I really haven't eaten.  My right hip on down through my right leg is aching.

I audible onto I-76 before Brush and it's an immediate workzone.  Oops.  Sterling would've made a fine stop for the day.  I don't see any mountains yet.  There's a flock of birds though!—snow geese—white body, black wing tips.  Pretty.  Like ticker tape on the wing.  Billboards: haven't seen any of those in a while.  Fort Morgan, no elevation given.  The workzone has ended.  This area is no longer dry like it was just it was a little while back.  I realized all of a sudden that I was looking at a marshy area.  The change was that abrupt.

GW, pure sugar.  A plant with a smokestack.  Fort Morgan is history.  Now I'm in clear-through mode. How long was I in scenic mode?  Five hours?  That's it.  I can go five hours in a car, then I'm ready to get out.  This stretch of I-76 isn't in very good shape.  It's remarkable how the interstate is in worse shape than the two-lane "back roads".

At 3:14 pm, it's 65 miles to Denver, 68°, average fuel mileage now up to 32.7.  I'm doing 75 mph, have done some 80.  DJ Bene is going, House Mix 02.  Fine but not his best.  I can make out some higher elevation way to my right (west).  But I can't call them mountains.  This is still scrubland.  Hilly, grassy, scrabbly.  Three cell towers on the hill I'm climbing.  A black work boot on the side of the road.  Quite a view, that a was a high point, I can see for miles and it's flat.  Wildflowers.  Standard stuff.  Black-eyed suzan and Queen Anne's Lace.  Something purple I wish I knew the name of.  On the far south horizon I can see the makings of civilation, perhaps it is Roggan?

Clear above, bigger clouds far to the south and west—long white puffy clouds.  It was the Roggan Farmers' Elevator.  Forty-seven miles to Denver.  Those purple flowers are awful nice, a very soft purple.  The Lewis and Clark part of my trip is over.  But I want to invent a drink called a Lewis and Clark [of course some clever mixologist has already done so...of course, the last drink I had that involved pear purée was something of an emetic].  I see commercial airplanes, a couple.  Not long now.

***

I have gotten gas and rested.  Now I see the mountains.  It's hazy but they're there.  Damn.  They're just dreams out there, earthen dreams obscured by air.  It's 30 miles to Denver, 3:58 pm, 74°.  Like me, a coal train moves south into Denver.

Barr Lake State Park, exit 22.  That's a possible spot for tomorrow.  I see Denver.  That is all for now.


XIII.  Wednesday Night, 9/10, at The Drury in Stapleton, CO.

Wednesday night then.  I didn't need to bring nearly as much up to my room this time.  I did dig my running shoes out of the Subaru's storage compartment.  I did 45 minutes on an elliptical to get my heart rate up; my lungs open; and to test my back.  I showered and went down to Hot Eats for nachos and hot dogs.  There was also the last bit—corners of the pan, edges—of some darn good spinach artichoke dip.  Next to the spinach artichoke dip were three pans of something that had been absolutely ravaged by my fellow guests.  I could not even tell what had been in them.  I thought about dusting for prints.  Egg rolls is my guess.  There seemed to be some of those crunchy little Asian noodles remaining.  Just shards, remnants, scraps of egg roll memory.

I was wondering why no one else was scraping at the corning of the spinach artichoke dip.  96% of it was gone, but no one was touching the corners.  Strange human behaviour.  Actually there was one dollop remaining in the middle that I couldn't bring even myself to scoop up because indeed it seemed as though there had to be something wrong with it.  A sad, cold spinach artichoke island.

I've got baseball on.  There was more heavy rain, rain on the porch in College City, MO.  B has had her hands full it sounds like.  I've had two beers and a couple modest pours of the Jeff Res.  It isn't gone yet.  I do have a view of downtown Denver and the mountains behind it.  It feels a little like I'm in Vegas.  Bright lights, big city, mountains in the background—matches the description of Vegas.  The mountains are not real clear, they're still hazed out some.

I am forcing myself to read more poems.  I'm supposed to like poetry but reading poems is a labor.  I am reading them aloud, still looking for those unique descriptions (which I will then steal, no one will know, hardly anyone reads poems anymore, not even poets read poems!)  The thing I've noticed is that these established, distinguished poets are not afraid to re-use the same phrases, even within the dozen or so lines of a small poem.  William Carlos Williams talking about his wife's pink slippers and the "gay pom-poms" on them.  He refers to the "gay pom-poms" twice in a 17-line poem.  He is not worried about trying to find a different phrase, to avoid saying the same thing twice.  He knows how he wants to refer to these "gay pom-poms" and so that's what he calls them.  In "Contemporania" he is talking about rain.  He calls it the "great rain" four times in a poem that is not long.

***

Thursday morning, 8:30.  Being on mountain time has been a lot of fun.  There is baseball starting today at 10:05.  The Cardinals play at 10:35.  But I won't say much now.  It rained overnight and the view I had of the mountains—I watched the sun set over them—is now totally shrouded in a misty fog. Ah well—alas—alackaday!—look at the bright side.  The Medicine Man is open, the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge is near.  I'm going to combine the two.


XIV.  Thursday at Arsenal.

It is though this town around here sprung up at once, a year or two ago, now.  Not Denver but Stapleton, CO.  The Drury is five weeks old.  Right across the street from it is a big, brand-new mall.  Go north half a mile and you find a vast swatch of corporate parkland.  A couple of dispensaries, truck distribution depots, on Office Depot depot, start-ups, building after building of offices, housing developments.  The streets themselves are still being laid.

But this particular parcel of land I'm on now has no offices.  It has a kingfisher, barn swallows, flickers, doves, heron, a hawk, coots on the lake.  This is the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge.  [Once I got home I did the research and learned that the Refuge has this name because it was once the site of a chemical weapons manufacturing facility.  After that it was leased to a Shell subsidiary that made pesticides and herbicides on the site. After that it manufactured and stored Cold-War Era weapons.  Busy place!]

Somewhere along the way I believe the Arsenal divested some of the acreage.  Once government land, it was put up for private development and it is upon some of this "freed up" land that the little boomlet of Commerce City now sits.  What is now the Refuge stays federal, the rest goes corporate.  There are trails here, fishing lakes.  I am in the midst of walking around Lake Ladora.  The tall grass sways.  The breeze is cool.  It is overcast; it was misty.  There is nobody else out here.

The infrastructure of the refuge appears fairly new.  There were parking spots designated solely for parking alternative-fuel vehicles.  There were a couple of what looked like electrical hook-ups right by the parking slots.  One of the foot bridges spanning Lake Ladora is made not of wood but of E-Z Dock, a plastic material.  At various spots along Lake Ladora there are "monofilament recovery and recycling" stations—for recycling fishing line.  Apparently fishing line, made from monofilament, is non-biodegradable and can last in nature unfazed for 100 years.  The recycled line is turned into underwater fish habitat structures.  Along the walking trail around the lake are little signs identifying the place's flora and fauna.  Once sign identified the cottonwood, a water-loving tree often found along lakes, rivers, and streams.  The sound of a train in the distance.  It's pretty much all cottonwoods around me.  I have on: running shoes, pants, a t-shirt, my thick fleece, my rain jacket, and my tuq.

I read several poems aloud, with only a deer to hear: F.S. Flint, Ezra Pound, and H.D. (her parents had no idea what an avalanche of innovation they were unleashing on the television industry when they gave birth to their daughter, whom they had named "High Definition".  Of course, she was a writer and didn't watch TV, which hadn't even been invented yet, so it would be more than a century before the innovation took hold....)

The gal I got this Goat from, over in the industrial park on Nome—I parked, a security guard checked my ID at the door, I went into a ropey-line-queue, waited for just a minute before I was called—is from St. Charles, MO.  I showed her my ID, she said, "Ohh, St. Louis...I'm from there."

"Oh yeah?"

"St. Charles actually."

"I have some friends moving there from Undersea.  It's great out there."

"Yeah, I wasn't that far from Busch Wildlife, all that."

"How long have you been out here for?"

"April."

"So you've moved out here and haven't looked back, huh?"

"No...I went back, I was there last week."

Enough of the small talk.  I said to her, "I want to get high, not stoned."  Pause, no reaction. I continued, "Does that make any sense?  I don't want the 'couch-lock'."


"Oh," she said.  "You want a high potency sativa then.  The ones I've got are either Flo or Blueberry Dream."  But I had taken a look at a menu online and was scoping out the Golden Goat.  I saw some, labeled as such, in a little jar behind her.

"What about Golden Goat?" I said.  She asked the other budtender if she (the other budtender) had any goat left.  The response affirmative, my St. Chuck budtender went and got it from under the counter, opened the bucket by spinning its Gamma-Seal lid counter-clockwise, and showed me a heap of little buds filling up about a third of the bucket.  "This is what the Golden Goat looks like."  I didn't try to smell it.  I thought the whole dang block stank of skank even before I pulled onto Nome.  As I pulled into the little parking lot, it was like parking in the foyer of a pot aroma rain forest.  

I got two grams and it seems like plenty for me.  I believe there are restrictions—or maybe it's just a sort of etiquette—restricting the publication of price information.  Let's just say I shelled out what I'd spend on a fifth of basic bourbon, such as Jim Beam.


She asked me if I had an exit bag.  I had no idea what she was talking about.  "You'll need one," she said, "so you can transport it legally—in Colorado, not at the airport."  So into the zipper-sealed lid went the little pouch of Goat.

"Do you accept tips?".

"Yeah.  We just don't put out a tip jar because we don't want people to feel obligated."

I gave her $5 and left with what I joked to myself was my diplomatic pouch.

*

There was a guy taking a photo of the heron on Lake Ladora.  Some fishermen showed up.  I hear planes, plenty of planes.  The airport is not at all far away.  I can see downtown from here, now that the fog has thinned just a bit.  There is a stadium nearby, Dick's Sporting Goods Stadium—but I can't quite tell who plays there.  That reminds me: point of clarification.  The Commerce City Civic Center is nearer here than the Stapleton, CO Visitor Center, which I also passed on the ten-minute drive from Nome St.  So where I am now is, I suppose, more Commerce City than Stapleton.  In terms of the various little cities popping up on the outskirts of Denver like little fungal spores...this must have been like what happened at one time outside the city limits of St. Louis.  Denver looks on as its children grow up, in sight but moving away, if slowly.

There's an old house here.  It looks like an old farmhouse.  It's got one of those iconic farmscape windmills, like a little fan spinning with the wind up on the top of metal scaffolding, the type of scaffolding that you would envision as part of an oil derrick.  And there's a little old barn, with a faded red door on it—the color is a faded red pastel, a beautiful color, part of americana's palette.  There is actually a team of carpenters over there fixing this place up!  They're in the midst of putting a—pelican incoming!—new roof on.  That's a house I'd buy.  To be able to wake up, walk out my front door, and walk out into a national wildlife refuge.   And be sipping on some coffee all the while?  Yowza.

I'm going to walk some more.  But I'll switch to my boots and out of these running shoes.  It's 12:17.


XV.  In Which the Immunity of My Diplomatic Pouch Nearly Got Put to the Test.

I walked for over an hour, down a trail/road—it's paved but closed now to vehicle traffic.  It runs from the Lake Ladora trailhead down to where the Prairie Trail jogs in sync with it before jumping 64th Avenue and continuing along the other side of the road.  I then took the Prairie Trail (.6 miles) to the Havana Pond Trail (.2 miles).  Along the way I happened upon three deer.  They were curious but timid.  The doe ran off first.  I haven't watched deer run much, I guess, because I was delighted to be reminded of a kangaroo as this doe bounded away.  He barely touched down in completion of one stride before the next stroke vaulted him back into the air.  The older deer made me get close to them before they moved away, less in the fashion of a kangaroo.  The way the deer would have their bodies facing away from me but could still crane their heads around to put their eyes right on me reminded me of how my dog sometimes does something very similar.  He is saying, "I'm not going to turn around but I'm not going to take my eyes off of you either."

I have seen deer in several places on this trip.  The first was a doe I startled as I walked along what might or might not have been the Wetlands Trail at Indian Cave State Park.  It was small, its chestnut flank speckled with white.   Then at the Star Prairie Hills CA, as I was walking back down the curvy mowed-grass incline I happened upon a grazing buck.  Now these.  These let me get the closest—the others ran as soon as I saw them.  These I first saw walking out to the Havana Ponds and then again on the way back.  I got a decent photo of one on the way back.  "Just let me get a decent photo of you," I said.  "That's all I want, I don't have any weapons."  I'm not sure that worked, but it didn't seem to hurt, either.  [Note: After writing this I look at the back of my Arsenal trail map, which lists the various wildlife present in the refuge.  These were mule deer I saw there—the others I saw in Nebraska and Missouri were, I think, white-tailed deer.]

What a strange land that is out there.  It's prairie land, scrubby.  A continuation of what I saw driving into Denver from Nebraska.  It seems to be fenced in but I cannot tell you if it is fenced along every inch of its perimeter or if there are merely pockets of the refuge circumscribed in fencing.  Its recent history as an arsenal means there are pieces of that history left behind.  I saw mid-20th century Cold War-era buildings, characterized by a certain staid quality—very practical-looking.  These buildings looked like something out of "Dr. Strangeglove", the part supposedly taking place on the air force base where the crazy general locks himself and his fellow officer in the general's office.  I imagined that that scene could have indeed been filmed out at Arsenal in one of those buildings.

The terminus of the Havana Pond trail was marked with a barrier that had itself fallen over some time ago.  There was also one "Area Closed Beyond This Point" sign, a white sign on a blue post, ubiquitous at Arsenal as well as at Squaw.  But this one had loosed itself of the bracket holding it to the post and had slid most of the way down its pole, hanging there in a crooked way, not at all convincing me to stay back.

I walked past both signs and looked over into what I'd call a flash-flood river channel, something like what holds the incomparable River des Peres, except that this channel was not lined with concrete.  The only concrete in view were the wide, woebegone slabs that at one point must have, if briefly, bridged the 15-foot stretch from one side of the channel to the other.  Before they broke and fell all over each other into the crevasse some ten feet below.  I am not sure who designed that sorry ad-hoc attempt at a bridge but I sure hope they are not still in the business of civil engineering.  I could see no evidence of what had been put in place to hold the span of concrete in place as it traversed the channel.  Nor could I make out, looking over to the other side of the channel, where it was that the concrete ever connected to that side.  It was not simply the case that some concrete had merely been dumped there.  On my side of the channel, there was a slab of concrete, shorn violently at the edge, extending just barely into the void.  It was the damnedest thing.

I hit a liquor store on Quebec Street on the way back from Arsenal.  It was relatively new.  It was not the only tenant in what was a larger building—next door was a grow supply.  From there I got back onto Northfield with luck—I had to make a two-over lane change at the last second and I was able to do so only because I was in a vacuum of traffic.  From Northfield it was one more right onto the street where the Drury is at, Central Park Boulevard.  Easy enough.  But I had not approached the hotel yet from the north and I could not see where the heck I was supposed to turn left to get into the hotel parking lot.  This road was still being worked on, there were orange barrels up and there was a lane closed.  It couldn't be that slight opening there on the left, could it?  Nah.  Of course it was and once I realized I had missed my turn I started to panic because I thought that if I kept going straight it was going to force me to get on I-70 or I-270 and I couldn't have that so I made another last-second, two-lane jimmy-jump and turned off onto what I prayingly told myself was an entrance to the mall.  But it was not.  It was, in fact, the on-ramp for I-270 west.  And I'm thinking to myself: Christ, the one fucking place I don't want to be, whether in St. Louis, or now in Denver is on I-blanking-270!

It gets better.  My two-lane jimmy-jump had drawn the interest of one of Colorado's finest.  I hadn't really cut anybody off when I made the move...I had been in the left of three lanes and, in shifting all the way to the right, I probably did not give as much clearance to the bus coming up the middle lane as it or I would have liked.  "Oh man," I thought, "I was right there about to turn into my hotel, I had such a nice time out there at Arsenal, I stocked up on frosty provisions and now because I couldn't find the goddam turnoff to the Drury I'm suddenly on the interstate, driving away from the hotel, I've got a pot pouch in the car, and I've got a cop on my ass!"  I was desperately looking for a speed limit sign but I couldn't find one.  I was doing 60.  The cop was getting closer and closer to me; he must have been running my plates.  I saw a speed limit sign indicating the limit was 55.  I tell myself, "No big deal, just slow down a little.  Go down to the next possible exit and turn around."  But this cop was so close to me now and the thing is: he didn't have lights on the top of his car and I still had enough gear in the back of mine such that I could not tell, by looking in my rearview mirror, whether or not he might be trying to pull me over.  For instance, if he had the red and blue lights in the front grill of the car I could not possibly have seen them.  So now I'm thinking, "Shit, he could have turned those lights on, like, a minute ago and he could be trying to pull me over and now in addition to everything else he's going to charge me with evading arrest."  Finally I got to the Vazquez Boulevard exit which I took and he didn't.  The sense of relief I had was tremendous.  Somebody get this man a Pepto Bismol!  Seriously though: a beer and the last of my turkey, my last piece of muenster, the last of the pre-cooked bacon, hand-smushed on a Febreeze-infused Texas Toast roll?  That was gonna hit the spot.

*

More examples of word repetition in poems from my "Imagist" poetry book.  In Pound's short, exquisite 'Image from d'Orleans' he uses the same line twice: "In the bright new season." There are only eight lines in the poem, and two of them are identical.  Yet, the poem still works.  (It is such a shame that Pound's anti-semitism and hideous political activities will forever stain his art—he was a fan of Hitler and made radio broadcasts during WWII for Mussolini's Italy; he hated America—because he has written the most incredible poetry I have ever read.)  Or in H.D.'s 'Priapus', where the speaker describes how she fell "prostrate", and then repeats this description of herself in the next stanza, "And I alone was prostrate."  I have always operated on the aesthetic belief that I should not use the same word/phrase/description twice in such a short work, or in such close proximity to its first instance.  But Pound and H.D. don't feel any pressure to find a second way of saying the same thing; perhaps they feel as though to say the same thing a different way the second time might be even more obvious and impeding.

A list of words and phrases in some of these various poems that strike me:  noiseless as an oar / umber / undulating weeds / oleanders / rose-yellow / boughs / casement / colloquy / vaudeville / blueflags / calamus / pantomime / whistling / barbaric / rhythms / euphony / equipage.


XVI.  Early Friday, 9/12, In Which Tyler and Doug Don't Make Their Cameo—Yet.

I'm sitting in my car on the street outside of that shop I was at yesterday.  It's a little nervy.  I doubt they like having people sit in cars out here.  I'm trying to meet up with Tyler and Doug.  I suggested this as a rendezvous because I figured Tyler would want to hit a shop on his way to Estes and this one wasn't far off of I-70.

On the side of the street opposite the shop is some kind of chemicals company, a place that does something along the line of providing industrial gases, like a PX or APD.  A guy with a disc backpack is going into the shop.  It's been mostly (but not solely) men that I've seen going in, and they've been mostly (but not solely) white.  Most have been in their twenties and thirties but some have been well into their fifties.  It's a scene.  My checkout time is eleven o'clock and I still need to shower.  It's only 8:46 so I've got time, but I'm not entirely comfortable just sitting out here.

(A few minutes pass and I get a text saying Doug and Tyler are bearing down on Boulder...whuh?...)

Well, Doug and Tyler blew right past Denver like it was some little cowpoke town sitting all alone on the prairie.  Damn.  I was in a rendezvous kind of mood.


XVII.  In Advance of B Landing, I Pass Time at Arsenal.

I'm back at Arsenal.  I saw a mule deer with a magnificent rack and a clutch of magpies as I drove in.  Magpies are all over the place here—one of those several species that are plentiful here in Colorado but nowhere to be found in Missouri.  They're like a cross between a blue jay and a crow, with a really long, thin, black tail.  They have a ratchety sort of voice.  Today I'm taking 64th Avenue all the way back to its eastern terminus.  It's the "main" road in the refuge and is also called "Wildlife Drive".  Meadowlarks.  This place is enormous.  So much of it is still closed to the public.  Roads, lakes, would-be trails.  64th has gone to gravel; I'm at its end.  I'll do the Bluestem Loop Trail.

*

There were prairie dogs on the Bluestem Trail.  There were all sorts of alternative paths to take once you got out there—e.g., the Southwest Loop.  The prairie dogs were all over the place, sticking their heads out the tops of the mounds set atop what I imagine to be their intricate network of underground tunnels.  I saw doves and other brown birds with streaked breasts that I didn't readily know and couldn't get a good look at.  One was meadowlark-sized, sitting on a tall stalk of some wildflower, with a needly beak and a big, puffy, streaked breast.  Then there was some variety of sparrow, its face streaked, otherwise without any noteworthy colors—like a song sparrow but without a dot on the breast.  Oh, there was one other thing about it: two slits of white on either side of the tail that I could see only when the bird took flight.

Later, I saw what looked like a crew of barn swallows working Lake Ledora.  Except the tail seemed different: not only was it not not as deeply forked as that of a barn swallow—it was fan-shaped—but across that tail was a very conspicuous band of white.  These birds would sometimes hover over the water, not so much skimming it like barn swallows would do.  But the color and the size was the same: a Payne's gray blue on the back and the tops of the wings with a chest of buffy chestnut brown.

It's 12:10.  Soon B will be at the airport.  I will leave for her now.


XVIII.  Golden Gate to Estes.

Saturday, 9/13/14, 12:36 m.d.t.  We enjoyed our one night at Golden Gate Canyon State Park.  Yesterday we hiked the Raccoon Loop out to a panorama point.  The view was incredible—wondrous.  Stupidly neither of us took any water with us.  We were under the impression that it was a two-mile loop, and we weren't going to do the loop.  We were just gonna go out to the panorama.   Well, we were misled by a sign and went clockwise instead of counter-clockwise.   It was a wake-up call, it was amateur hour.  As I walked I could see imprints of color against the sky, even moreso against the backs of my eyelids when I closed my eyes.  W

We got lucky though.  Not too far in advance of the panorama point we ran into two other hikers—a brother and sister named John and Terry.  Not only did Terry take several photos (of us) for us.  More importantly she gave us water.  I felt pretty sheepish.  I had spent the last two nights in Denver but the acclimation process didn't really start until the incline we did as part of that hike.  I was short of breath right away.  Terry pointed out some of the panorama's features: a little notch of rock called The Devil's Thumb; and, looking to the right end of the panorama (north) was Longs Peak.

We were in the Reverends Ridge Campground, top-shelf campsite.  Hard, level, elevated, demarcated tent pad, an ice machine on the premises, coin-operated showers [that each of us would use], well-spaced trees, shapely fire-ring, big sturdy picnic table, one site next to us unoccupied.  Two cars parked nearby in the dark to access their walk-in site; a family of three on the site next to us, a little disarrayed. After hiking, we drank beer, had a fire, went to bed.

I got up at three after tossing and turning for awhile.  I was cursing my crappy camp pillow, blaming it for my stiff and achy neck.  The pillow I was using was a regular-sized pillowcase crammed with one crummy little camping pillow and then a bunch of other bric-a-brac including but not necessarily limited to towels, my fleece, bags we use to pack our gear, and my stuffed dog whose name is Colorado because my mom got him for me in Colorado before I was ever born.  But it wasn't the pillow's fault.  Really it was dehydration, brought on by not having water on the hike and then drinking several beers.  This was the worst stretch of the trip.  I sat in the bathroom of the campground pressing my fingers to my temples, to the bridge of my nose, to a spot right by my ear, toward my temple.  I can feel my pulse there.  I make my own aspirin this way.  I imagine that it's a way of completing the circuit of my pulse, causing it reverberate back through my body in a way that somehow helps.  I can't pass time any quicker than it wants to go.  I threw up around two in the morning.  Afterward I felt better and slept for awhile.  That was the coldest night of the trip.  We did a badass hike the next day, into Frazer's Meadow.  A trail mix including M&Ms hit the spot.  B drove us down from out of the mountain and out of the canyon Saturday morning and we vied with numerous cyclists en route to Estes Park.  Rocky Mountain, here we come.



XIX.  If You're Looking for the Part Where Tyler and Doug Make Their Cameo, This is It.


We heard the elk bugling all through the cold, clear night.  I am now standing next to the car, watching the sky fill with light.  My hands are cold.  B is asleep.  It is a quarter 'til six on Sunday morning.

We went over to Tyler and Doug's site last nite for dinner and drinks.  It's the best campsite I've ever spent any time on.  C242.  It faces south and in view are two main features, one above and one below.  Above, mountains: peaks that stretch above the treeline.  Longs Peak?  It seemed to be but we weren't sure and I haven't looked it up yet.  A long stretch of the mountain is above treeline.  I thought about how I'd like to walk up there.  A long part of it was like a platform before it stretched higher yet—land up there, way up there, still earth.

But before I mention the second main feature, an update.  I went over to B in the tent and said, "Whaddya say, B?"

"Whuuhhhhnnhh."

"Whaddya say?"

"OK."

I am standing here at our site, A8, which is just not even worth describing after experiencing C242.  Here at A8 we are close to what I'd call the main camp road.  There are three sites in this grouping—6,7,8—and our tent pad is right up close to the road while the other two are set up and back.  The cars have started, is what I'm saying.  Crawling, creeping along.  Festooned in their unnecessary headlamps.  And, in some cases, diesel.  Ahhh, I love the smell of diesel in the morning.  Well, maybe some sour east coast diesel.  Ha!

*

She got up quick.   We have driven over to the showerhouse en route to Tyler and Doug's site.  They lucked into it, the result of someone else canceling a reservation.  Tyler and Doug themselves had canceled their initial site reservation.  Tyler's work schedule jumped up and took a bite out of their plans, apparently fatally.  They were going to go to the Smokies instead but at the last minute, as he was driving over to Doug's to start the trip, Tyler said, "You know what?  It's only a few more hours' drive to the Rockies, let's just go."  So they did.  Drove straight through, got here Friday around noon.  At around noon yesterday he texted me asking me where we were at.  We had just gotten to Estes.  Brimming, busy Estes Park.  We went to a Safeway there.  The parking lot was nearly full.  Inside it wasn't too bad.  Traffic was slow from there along 36W into the park.  Tyler and Doug dropped in on us as we were unpacking and getting set up.  We made plans to spend the evening at their site.

And that's where we're back to now.  The sunrise is much better here!  Postcards for later is all I have right now.  IOU.

*

10:08 and we're done with a hike to Alberta Falls—we went a little past it and then turned back.  Lots of people.  Did not go out to Bear Lake.  But we're coming back here later to go for a longer, one-way hike.  Tyler and Doug have to be out of their site by noon.  It's sunny and 66°.  Bear Lake elevation is 9700'.


XX.  Sunday Night with The Peeps.

There was a moment, many moments, when I thought this night was bust.  B and I were sitting in the car outside the Rocky Mountain Opry—a place that sells touristy stuff, knick-knacks, trinkets, figurines—not a mountain music venue.  They were inside the park and we were outside it.  They had come in looking for us, and they found us, but we needed a shower.  The solar showers that are listed as being available in the campground...we never really considered those an option.  If not for the hike I wouldn't have been so preoccupied with getting clean but I stank and I was down to one last clean round of clothes.  Last t-shirt, last boxer shorts, last pants.  I wanted out of the park.  So we came here, to V/B 66, and showered.

My shower amenities mix has become diaspora—here, there, nowhere—I used shampoo and face wash.  It worked.  There was an unopened bar of Dove in there that I really wanted to crack but I was afraid I'd leave a curly on it.  So I left it alone.  What is soap, really?  It's just suds, surfactants.  What can you introduce to the surface of your skin as a means of ferrying dirt away from your body via water?  That's the question.  And what can you use to divorce oils, or bind them in distraction—and then ferry them away by water?  That's all.

We eschewed the site tonight.  A008.  There's not much to say about it.  Too much traffic too close to home.  A dirt road and no view.  Whateverest.  I'm here and this gas fire is...it's not flaming, or roaring, but it is breathing.  The five are abed, dreaming blue dreams.   Over the last few days I've gotten away from my poets.  I miss them.  I miss reading them aloud.  I told my Drury Pool joke but it flopped.  Pat just coughed.

We walked down to the Big Thomson River.  It sounded like the wind in the trees as a storm approaches.  But the storm never arrives.  The river just keeps on sounding that way.  There is so much to say.  Nebraska was a month ago, my college years.  Missouri is a dream I can't quite remember.  We hiked today, me and B.  We were ready but still we were struggling.  With distance, with time, with weather.  With the primal forces of nature, Mr. Beale.

Walking on rocks makes my feet hurt but I don't believe I've ever been to, or slightly above, treeline at any other point in my life.  We made good time.  Four and a half hours, 25-minute miles, that's over ten miles.  Nine-something on the map but we ended at the Fern Lake shuttle bus stop and the gal there who picked us up in the shuttle—the shuttle got there right as we did, we needed that, amazing.  The shuttle bus gal, she drove that vehicle box through all of the elk people, as the dozens of volunteers tried to bring order to chaos.  The shuttle lady said, "Some people who have, you know," and she made a sort of stopwatch motion with her free hand, motioning like she was clicking a device, "and they say it's more like 10 or 13 miles."  Huh.  Early on we were making real good time, I thought, but on the map we should've been to Odessa Lake already.  But we hadn't even gotten to where you can see Notchtop Mountain well.

The distance I can handle, the elevation I can handle (only after getting my ass kicked twice at Golden Gate).  But it's walking on all of those rocks, for miles, that wears me down.  My boots are rigid, "Built Ford Tough."  But enough is enough.  Every rock is a balance beam my foot is plantar fasciating in an attempt to land on, brace itself upon, and finally launch itself back off of from—wow, three prepositions in a row: somebody get this guy into sentence diagramming class.  OK, bad seventh-grade English joke.  Does anyone have an overhead projector, an erasable marker, and a spray bottle with some water in it?  No?  A tissue and some spit will work just fine.  Random!

We experienced three seasons on that hike.  Summer to start, certainly so on that wretched Park 'n' Ride shuttle bus to Bear Lake—barf.  Winter as we climbed to tree line and it threatened rain.  On top of my t-shirt I added first a long t-shirt and then a sweater.  I had to tighten the chin strap on my floppy hat or else it would have blown off and bounded its way down a rocky crevasse to the base of a pine tree somewhere far below.  Fall as we passed Fern Falls, descended to The Pool, and then walked over aspen leaves and sand and observed some of the 2013 flood damage off to the left as numerous fisherman whisked their lines into the Big Thomson River on the right.

My thoughts drift back to Tyler and Doug....  It didn't seem real, them having to leave.  After our Alberta Falls hike we we went back to their incredible site and made hot dogs and sandwiches on a lighter fluid-lit fire.  Then we had to give Doug's red Dodge a jump because it was stone dead.  That was my first jump since the Jeep.  I was a stickler on the order of attachments: hot car positive, cold car positive, hot car negative, cold car ground.  "Drawing sword, sword cutting water, water flowing.  Sorrow again sorry."  That's Pound in my head but my head is not pounding.  Not since early Saturday morning in the tent, out of the tent at Golden Gate, in that showerhouse feeling so dreadful, wanting to be asleep.

I slept well last night, though.  I really did.  I felt safe, it was quiet, I was physically tired from the Coyote Trail hike at Golden Gate and then the drive up to Estes, and setting up camp again.  And I'm physically tired now at the V/B are, oh so generous for hosting us, letting us shower here, and crash here.  Thanks!  If not for you I'd be shivering now, maybe hearing some elk screech and whistle and creak and gargle, which would be nice.  But I would not be writing this, would I?

*

What about our tent?

What about it?

It just seems so lonely.

You said it'd be fine.

*

Sagitta, three dots, in a
line.  The arrow. Delphinium the
really small diamond.

We're in the full-size part
of a bunk bed.  B turns away slightly
as I turn the page.  If only I could
see better in the dark.  It's like
ink driving, not very
efficient.  This should be the last page 4
tonight.  I'm tired.

                                    Elk antlers
                rocks     pines
                                            horse poop on
          the trails           chipmunks

wind sun running water, views,
    hikers, water bottles, cameras, walking
       sticks, hats, sunglasses,       find
          spots to hide,      maps,

What was that?  It sounded like
      a rodent's scurry.   But it was just
     a computer charger falling out of the
       socket to the carpet down below.
Those rocks.   Why is this mountain so

rocky.   Shuttles on
    winding roads, mountains all around,
           pine needles, pine bark mulch
          naturally, bars, beef jerky,

sunscreen but no bugs.

                              Goodnight!


XXI.  Monday the 15th: Hike to Emerald Lake.

"Are you guys shooting a time-lapse photo?"

I was into the third of three "tens"—who was talking to me, where was I along this mountain stream?  Oh, yeah: Pat down there with his camera and tripod.

"No, he's just taking random photos."

In my first count to ten I was already realizing how good it felt, how pleasant the sound is from this stream.  And I had that trite first ten thought, at about six, I'm gonna start doing this every day, I'm gonna get all Zen.  Then in the next breath I started thinking about that imperial pumpkin porter I had on Friday.  So at about eight I resolved that I was going to start getting all zen again, except for beer.
Then in the second ten I found my mind rather empty.  I was trying to recall what I had thought about during the first ten.

I'm on a rock.  There are people on the trail just a step behind me but the stream is so loud that not even their chatter is distracting me.

*

On the rock at Emerald.  An old Asian man is singing, "America the Beautiful."  Brett is laid back, comfortable.  Rain cloud though—was that a shrike we saw?  Let's go.

*

About halfway back.  I'm up above the trail, set back, on another rock.  Pat and Brett were behind me on the trail.  I'm caught by the sight of a cloud sliding down the side of a mountain, seeping down it.  I can hear the stream again.  The cloud is dropping slow and grazing in the gorge.

Brett is below me now.  I don't know if he knows it.  I'm playing the billy goat.  The sun is now back and that cloud has rethought its descent into the gorge.  It is gathering itself, mounting the peak, and moving along east.  There is some color out there: it's the aspen.  Patches of orange and yellow amidst the deep ever green.  A couple of backpackers come down the trail with what look to be mattresses on their backs.  I guess they fold the mattress in half, cram everything else they have into the fold, tie it tight, and then hike.  Brett is still down there, standing on the trail just below me.  I really don't know if he knows I'm up here.  He must.  He's been standing there for a couple of minutes now.  Too much of a coincidence.

Pat's back there somewhere taking photos I assume.  I figure he must have like the muted colors the sky took on when it got cloudy.  I heard him use the word "muted".

Brett left and now Pat stops on the same spot, pauses, thinks about stopping, turns around, sees me, grins.

"I felt like I was being watched."

"Did you?"

"A little, yeah."

Now he's climbed above me and is setting up his tripod.  I hear the stream and the clicking of the camera shutter.  The ache and the ratchet of the tripod.  Nothing else.


XXII.  Final Estes Brott.

A.  Laundry Monday Late Afternoon.

I am sitting at a picnic table outside a place in Estes Park called Dad's that does double duty as both a laundromat and a showerhouse.  There are people here doing both but I'm just doing laundry.  Being in there, listening to the conversation the proprietor was having with a local (whose laundry machine was on the fritz)...it made me feel like I was in a Northern Exposure episode in Cicely, AK.  It was homy and comfortable and time didn't seem to matter.

I was running out of clean clothes again.  So I'm waiting while my clothes rinse and spin.  It's nice out.  On the drive up here from the cottage I saw a dozen elk coursing down the sidewalk right by Safeway, a bull and his cortege.  It was like they were a runners' group and they were just out doing a group run before sunset.  No big deal.  Maybe it was seeing those elk that put Northern Exposure into my head even before I got into the laundromat/showerhouse.

Our cottage here is pretty basic.  Tiny, really.  The floors were new (beetle-ravaged, reclaimed pine) but other facets were lacking.  There was a little red mold on the shower liner, one of the screens on one of the windows was busted up.  The views seemed good, though.  I was only there for a few minutes before I went back out to come and do this laundry.  Here's the good news: there is a cooler full of good, ice-cold beer waiting for me and the peeps.  V/B is having us over for dinner.  They cook, we bring the beer.

B.  Tuesday Morning, The Egg & I, 8:20.

Words from Balderdash.  Agrafe-- the wire cage on a champagne bottle used to hold down the cork.  Pokelocken-- a small, secluded bar.  Brott-- broken bits of everything and anything.  Sweam-- (not sure now, this might have referred to "the skin between thumb and forefinger")  Palastra-- a school of wrestling.  Microhenry-- a unit of electrical measurement.  My fake definition for pokelocken was "a branch of locksmithing that doesn't rely on keys."  Pat was the moderator for that word.  He was sitting with his back to the door.  He turned around and was tapping at the lock.

C.  To the Tundra.

The Mummies come into view.  We're on Trail Ridge Road.  It's 63° at 10:52.  1,428 trip miles.  New Wave on the stereo.  Chiquita, Ypsilon, Fairchild.  We're going 30 m.p.h.

D.  Everything Else I Should Have Written About But 

didn't.



XXIII.  Wednesday the 17th, Heading East.

The Shell in Watkins.  But I get on 36, not 70.  I dropped off B at DIA.  We had a tough time getting there.  36 east out of Estes was closed and we had to detour.  We took a bad route.  I let it put me in a bad mood and found it easy to blame her.  We've had our troubles as pilot and co-pilot.  I can remember a snafu in Nova Scotia.  We go on.

The scenery along the route we were left with was a silver lining.  Dropping down in elevation, we headed east into Lyons, the St. Vrain on our right.

We were on 36 only briefly south out of Lyons then we took 66 east through Longmont to I-25 south.  We had left early so we never entered a state of urgency but what a convoluted route and man was I cranky.  Maybe because heading back was enough of a downer already, thinking about work, the fucking stock market, the goddam S&P 500.  My flash-forward departure was giving me something of the bends.

On the day I was driving from Nebraska to Iowa, and then back to Nebraska because Iowa had no water, the Ray Rice news was on the radio.  Today it's the Adrian Peterson news.  An Emergency Alert System  test.  Whew.  Initially I was thinking it was an overreaction, the work of our fledgling outrage society.  But I'm listening to Colin and he says he's seen enough of AP's work and that AP should not play.  "Sorry if he's on your fantasy team; bummer."

I'm headed east, I-70 is thirty feet away, I'm running in parallel.  I lost 36 though.  I don't know how.  I'm on C-40.  I'll go down to Deer Trail and go north to get back on 36.  C-40 is like an access road, there's no one else out here.  It's 82°, sunny, 10:15 mountain time.  The tripometer is at 1,613 miles.  Miles per gallon is 31.8.  Dead coyote on the road.

Deer Trail, 5183 feet.  I had to turn around twice in Deer Trail (I guess you could say I lost the trail, har har, wacha wacha).  The correct turn was the most obvious one.  I resisted it but eventually I gave in.  Occam, my dear, you win again.  Eight miles to 36.  Cows with tags on their ears.  Price Road is what I'm on.  It's hilly.

Looking west I can barely see the mountains, lowly black and cloud-level.  Price Ranch.  A field with a lot of hay bales. The radio has gotten very staticky.  A little—not so little—racetrack.  High Plains Raceway.  No one racing.  To the south some cumulonimbus.

Cirrus to the north.  East, cumulus, maybe altostratus.  Clean Harbors.  Hazardous Waste Treatment Facility.  Through traffic stay to the right.  Picnic spot in a mile.  Cows.  The picnic table was heavily hemmed by weeds.  Windmills far to the south.  84°.  It's beautiful out here.  Ranchland palette.  The palette of a sky with enough clouds to look at but sporting a zero chance of rain.

I can see for miles.  Kansas is out there somewhere.  Two-lane road, rolling, decent surface, pass, don't pass, either side can pass.  Power lines.  Trees dead but standing.  Two cattle trucks wait for me to pass by on 36 before they cross it from south to north on C-71.  Short corn.  It's dry here.

Longhorns, Anton.  A co-op selling gas.  The next two towns are Cope and Joes.  Three heavy trucks behind me.  There was a nice wide field and hay bales a while back.  I thought about stopping.  Should have.  Coulda shook those trucks.

The first two trucks pass.  They were in tandem, same kind of truck.  Soft-top trailer.  Grain.  The third truck, an orange roadwork dump-truck passes, too.  Many of the fields now are bare dirt, but recently worked on.  Signs of tilling.  Smooth, no weeds.  Perhaps they are prepped for winter wheat.  Maybe already planted.  A bee came in the open window and landed in my lap.  It wasn't dead, probably concussed.  I had to pull over and get it off of me.

An agroforest demonstration tract.  A field lines on at least three sides by spruce trees.  Five walls of hay bricks.  Picnic spot in a mile.  It's 85° in Cope.  An old town overgrown by weeds.  I'm turning around, I'm going back for a photo.  JK Cattle Company, feed yard two miles south.  The ESPN signal being lost, I hit seek and got a hip hop country song.  Joes.  A couple of people using a picnic area.  Stores with closed signs on them.  Liberty Baptist Church, its sprinkler going.  A grade school.  Dead coyote, side of the road.  Did someone move him there or did she make it those four steps before lying down forever?  A tiller's dust cloud.  Idalia.  The Grainery Bar and Grill.  Some vibrancy here.  A Post Office—but many of them do have their little Post Offices, yet.

36 jogged briefly with 385 but now 36 curves away again to the east, its own way, to St. Francis and Wray.  A field of sunflowers, the town of Hale not far to the south.  It's 90°, 12:36 mountain time, 1737 trip miles.  I've spent more time doing 70 mph+, doing 67 now.  Stunted corn, smell of manure, cell phone tower tall.  US-36 mile marker 223.

*BREAKING NEWS*
I've entered the central time zone and....I'm in Kansas.
*END OF BREAKING NEWS*

I stopped to take a photo and stretch.  It's dry and 91°.  It's also very windy!  Dorothy, get a hold of them ruby reds.  A gust just gave the car a jolt.  A dirt dervish is making its way across a field to my right.  A trash bag with only a few items in it waves around in the backseat.  Two miles to St. Francis.  Republican River.  Four miles to the St. Francis Feed Yard.  An old, weathered sign for the Angle Road RV Park.

The Dusty Farmer Motel.  The Empire Motel.  Sainty Liquor.  U Sav Liquor.  There are many cell towers out here so I guess I shouldn't be surprised by the decent coverage I've had along the road.  It's good rental income for the landowners and the carriers get to expand and enhance their networks.  I see no aesthetic argument against putting a cell tower in the middle of wheat fields.  People say there's nothing to see in Kansas so whom could you offend by putting up a tower?

The situation is quite different in Rocky Mountain National Park.  I didn't see any cell towers in the park.  Hence the spotty coverage.  I did see a tower on a mountain just south of Estes, just outside RMNP.  It did stick out, as I took in the view from atop Deer Mountain.  But I don't doubt I pushed data through that tower so I can't really complain.  What I wonder at, though, is why I have had such decent coverage in Nebraska or in a place like this, nowhere Kansas, yet my coverage is spotty at best in certain parts of Missouri like Iberia or Round Spring, or up at Pere Marquette in Illinois.  You can't tell me that there are more people within a 50 mile radius of here than at Pere Marquette or Iberia.  Bird City, KS.  Diner closed.  The elevator along the tracks is open for business though.

Caterpillars on roadways.  A tractor trailer passes with about a dozen lumps of hay weighing down the trailer, slanting it heavily to the right, starboard.  Feedyard stink.  A rest area, one mile ahead.  Really?  On 36?  McDonald, KS.  Indeed, flashed forward from 1950 is the rest area now before me.  Trash, restrooms, a water spigot.  I'll take it.

Carlson's choke tubes.  I don't know what a choke tube is.  Atwood.  The It'll Do Motel.  A small hospital, a Casey's General Store.  That was a town more modern than the others.  Built more recently, anyway.  This is now an updated surface on 36.  I'm going due east at 72 mph.  Even if I were driving straight through, from Estes to St. Louis—not stopping somewhere, soon—I think I'd take 36.   Past Oberlin.  Still in rather west Kansas.  The grass along the roadways here, in the ditches, has a reddish tint to it, adds a little color.  Pleasant effect.

Does it matter what kind of grass it is, or is it enough for me to tell you that it is red?


XXIV.  Wednesday Night at the Sleep Inn: Remarking upon the Krummholz of trees and friends.

I'm at the Sleep Inn in in in Norton, KS.  Highway 36 gets rather north of I-70 in Kansas—or should I say that I-70 drops well south of Hwy in western Kansas?  Highway 36 just goes east.  A sign outside of Norton points out that 36 is the shortest route from Indianapolis to Denver.

This room isn't bad.  I was initially really impressed but now I realize that appearance is facile, specious.  My window is leaky.  It leaks inward.  I heard some of the staff on their cig break—hey people, don't sell those cigarette stocks just yet—and now a couple of youngsters are out there screwing around along a concrete gutter that runs along "my" side of the hotel.  They're whipping at each other with forlorn switches.  And then, above me?  Someone just flushed the toilet up there and I'm thinking about going down to the MacDaniels here in town and setting up a booth to sell tickets for admission to "Norton Falls".  I didn't see any water but it was gushing between the drywalls, I could feel it.

The Colorado portion of this trip is so over.  Nebraska feels like something I did a couple of years ago.  I am not going to pretend that we had a whole bunch of great moments with Pat and Brett and Anne and Fairchild.  It was a start-stop several days with them.  We were on different schedules.  B and I front-ran them on acclimation, for one.  I refused to go all the way to the western side of the park yesterday.  We were at Tundra World together, and I loved it up there.  Trail Ridge Road was popular. And they were doing work on it, the Road Crew, shutting down one of two total lanes in spots.  I spent six hours in a car today.  I'll spend four or five in a car tomorrow and four or five in a car on Friday.  Enough is enough.  I imagined very few cars "up there" on Trail Ridge Road and I was crushed, bust, and deflated.

But Tundra World.  It was not crazy cold.  It was windy and I needed my hat, long sleeves, pants (not shorts!), boots (not flip flops!!), and tuq.  And camera.  The air was of impeccable quality.  If I am ever on a plane that goes into a tailspin and the yellow cups drop down, I hope the air from Tundra World is what they're pumping through the apparently uninflated bags.  The sky, the clouds, the mountains and their raft of lakes.  It is a special place.  Mushroom rocks, schist, freezing and thawing polygons.  Pika.  Marmots.  A coyote but no ptarmigans.  I finished my roll of color film while we were up there.  I successfully extracted the color and inserted a roll of 24 b&w.  I went through about half of that while we were up there.  I took at least one photo of each of the other five and I even mounted my camera on Pat's tripod, a first: that camera has never been screwed onto one of the universal tripod mounts, for as long as I've had it (thirteen years?)

Included in the dozen or so shots are one or two group shots that I used the camera's elementary "Boggle-style" timer to take.  I talked to a fella up there who asked me if Pat was taking time-lapse photos.  Pat had his camera set up on the tripod and he was indeed taking time-lapse photos.  That was the second day in a row someone had asked me if Pat were taking time-lapse photos.  People love time-lapse!  I saw just a snippet of what Pat had gotten in his first "variegated exposure" in the tundra: one shot every second for three minutes—180 photos lasting for seven seconds upon playback.  The move so comfortably in the midst of time-lapse.  The fella I was talking to noticed my camera and said, "You're (still) doing film."  I told him I had been on a ten-year hiatus, and had messed up a good roll of b&w while I was still in the process of shaking the rust off.  I was just yakking to this guy, I'm not exactly sure why—no, I do: I was proselytizing.  I was evangelizing for film photography.  JT is bringing sexy back, fine.  I'm bringing film back, baby!  I'm gonna invest in Kodak bankruptcy stock and become the unlikely "old" Kodak billionaire of the 21st century!  Alright, maybe not.  I need to get my film developed first and then go about my reclamation of the photosphere.

There is a term for trees that unluckily find that their beginning was borne on soil marking the transition zone between hospitable soil below and inhospitable soil above the tree line.  Krummholz—a German word meaning "twisted wood," referring to the stunted and irregular growth patterns  of trees found in the transition zone between forest and tundra.  And that was the landscape that B and I shared with our friends in RMNP/Estes Park in September 2014.  We weren't "on the same page," we didn't "hit on all cylinders."  Yet, I cannot remember seeing any other group of six unrelated people on any other trail I've been on this trip.  Getting six adults to do one thing at the same time—in nature, on vacation, at elevation—ain't easy.  We did Dream Lake/Emerald Lake together.  Then we took our time up at Tundra World together.  Perhaps it wasn't enough, but it was more than most sets of three other couples could muster in a national park.  I feel it was all a bit of a miss—it was amiss.  It could have been better theoretically, but not practically.  Even thinking of them now I miss them.  I could have embarked on my trip later than I did, days later.  And maybe then, maybe, after I dropped off B at the airport I would have gone back to Estes and Pat and I would be scouring the park for great sunset shots.

B and I were up early today—the duck was quacking at five and I was up and moving—and the light was incredible this morning, red and diffuse and suffuse and golden and amber all at once.  We went up to the Lumpy Ridge trailhead off MacGregor.  The light was a-wasting.  I took her phone and got up on this huge rock to get her a "killa" Instagram photo but I shot that shit right into the sun, which: have I learned anything on this blanking trip?  You take the opposite photo.  At sunrise, you face the sun, turn around and you shoot what is always there but is hardly ever there in that light.  In my scurrying down the rock I banged my already-cut thumb and we never really found a great vantage point for a final sunset photo.  The sun was all-up and the moment was all-gone.  You have to have your spot in mind and you have to be there as the sun is about to come up.  That means leaving at 5:30 or 5:45 and it's not that easy, either.

I wish I could have slowed everything down.  I mean, Tyler and Doug: remember them?  They were out there before we got there and we spent that first evening at their incredible site, C242.  That feels like a month ago.  We hiked with them to Alberta Falls.  We could have done so much more.  I hate it, I hate that the eight of us could not have had a night at C242.  It's stupid.  The fact that it didn't work is stupid.  But schedules override, jobs override and in the short term jobs and schedules are more important than friendships and memories.  That is reality.  That is terrible.  There is no quick change we can make to "the system," to the bureaucracy that is going to alter this reality.  It takes drop outs and money to change this.  It requires a sort of anti-reality moon-boot.  And I'm not even sure I've got those in my shoe-rack.

***

I sent B a text: "I'm checking for Roosevelt.  If you do some Ken Burns before I get back I won't say anything.  But get some in the queue if it's not instant."  Ha.  That's what a future Ken Burns doc would contain: Twitter bursts, Instagrams, and (somehow) texts.  We're gonna make it easy for the future Ken Burns.


XXX.  Road Hand, Thurs, 9/18.

1858 trip miles.  Hospital across the street.  New Age Industrial.  "The Aluminum Specialists."  It's overcast.  It's recently rained.  There is a train on the tracks just to my left but it's not moving.  Norton Correctional Facility.  A truck passes me.  Speed limit is 65, I want to go 53.  Ratatat.  The highway is curving, ghosts of dead buffalo are running.  Now, cows.

Mostly ranch land, pasture since Norton.  I tap my brakes at the person gating me and jaw at them as they pass.  If you want to go faster than me, go around.  It's a passing zone.  Perhaps the now-heavier fog made her reluctant.  I get that.  This just isn't gonna work until these people all get to work and get off my back bumper.  Welcome to Phillips County, the cow/calf capital of Kansas.  The fog relents a little.  Deer Creek.  Dead raccoon.  I don't understand the feed yard concept.  That's where the cows are brought to be sold?

I forgot to mention the two camper-cyclists I passed about 20 miles back.  Deer Creek again.  I had passed the same two gear-laden cyclists yesterday, too.  Pretty sure.  I've put my reading glasses on, wearing them Ben Franklin-style.  They must've stayed at Prairie Dog State Park, just southwest of Norton.  I suppose they are doing a bicycle camping tour along 36.  Or just through Kansas generally.  A little wet for them last night and earlier today, though.  That's a rough go.  Railroad still running parallel with 36.  Have not seen a moving train along it yet.  Nothing like the U Pac activity I saw along 30 in Nebraska.

Phillipsburg.  Hugunin Liquor.  Cute town, has some new buildings.  A building with a big "B" and then "Brooke" under that.  Almost.  I stop at Mac's Kwik Stop, a Cemex station.  They do not have credit card slots on their pumps.  I pump my gas and go in and pay with the correct change.  Two bills, two dimes, three pennies.  I cleaned the windshield and then thought I should go back in and use the restroom.  On the wall in there was a lot of scrawling but one particular inscription caught my eye:

They paint these walls
to hide my pen,
but the shit house poet
strikes again!

For "blunge"  I'm wishing now I had suggested, "Britain's response to grunge."  As in, "Hey mate, whaddya think about that new blunge tune?"  Sorghum.  Kirwin National Wildlife Refuge, six miles south.  If I were not entertaining the notion of getting home tonight, I would have gone.  Pumpkin at the base of a stop sign.  The road rises and bridges over the tracks, which course south.  Hay bales in a green grass field.  Smith County.  Another tower with a Viaero Wireless sign out in front of it.  Kensington.  In some instances, I am probably mistaken in considering what is right along the road/highway to be representative of the town I am driving through.  In the case of Kensington, there was a sign indicating that the Business District was to the south.  I looked down that direction and could a part of a town square.  So I did not really see Kensington, did I?  I merely walked into its foyer and turned around.  Sorghum and corn.  It's still a little foggy.  Pink Floyd's "Echoes" is in its 15th minute.  These towns have some Highway 36 pride.  On either end of Phillipsburg were banners promoting "The US Hwy 36 Treasure Hunt."  Athol.  Second Chance Antiques and Things.  The store itself was an antique, its sign for sure.

I just crushed a bird with the grill of the car.  It was a flock that was spread out over the road, in the brush on either side.  They took to wing but half the flock was right in front of me.  I'm surprised I didn't hit more of them.  Sparrows, I think.

The market is up, at all-time highs.  The FOMC concluded one of its regular meetings yesterday and stuck to its pledge to maintain ultra-low interest rates for a "considerable time" subsequent to ending its third round of unprecedented bond buying in October.  Only once has Yellen said anything the market didn't like and she quickly backed away from those comments once the market spooked.  I can't recall Bernanke ever saying anything the market didn't like.  Maybe just once, in the spring of 2013, when the  plan to curtail the bond buying was introduced.  Toward the end of episode 4 of "The Roosevelts" is the point when the documentary arrives at October 1929.  The market before that "bang!" moment was, in the words of the documentary, characterized by "speculation and easy credit."  There is no way we are not wrapping ourselves in bubble paper right this moment.  The bubbles will pop and we will be naked underneath.  As I drive east, in this loose fog, at the geographic middle of the USA, I do not see how I can go back to work when I get home.  I cannot keep giving these days away to madness.

Another gear-laden cyclist, this one solo.  I'm really curious about them.  Is this something people do?  Bicycle camping blunges across Kansas on Hwy 36?  Blunge—a camping bender exacted via bicycle.  Misting now, the fog heavier.  Eighteen miles to Scandia.  The fog is at its thickest yet.  I am driving through oblivion listening to Jimmy Smith.

Randall ten miles to the south.  The thought of loved ones is all that's keeping me alive right now.  The surface is fine this stretch.  I hit 82 m.p.h.  It's 10:05.  1,962 trip miles; 6,166 in the car's history.  A busted barn.  An old, weatherworn house with hay bales surrounding it.  An oversized load coming the other way, the fourth I've seen today.  Bergstrom Livestock.  A railroad crossing.  DJ Bene.

Barn swallows flit like bats over the roadway.  The fog has let up again.  Pawnee Indian Village, eight miles to the north.  I knew I smelled a feed yard, and there it is, the cows with their heads in the trough. Pumpkin patch, most of them white yet.  The Republican River, its second term.  Two blocks south, treasures by the TON.  That was Scandia.  Very green fields either side, short crop, winter wheat.

The clouds are thinning.  A black mailbox, an American flag waving on a tall white pole.  The sun is just about through the clouds.  It's gotten windy.  A car-port of hay.  An elevator.  Bestifor Hay Co., a year-round supplier of hay.  A K-State Extension experimental field.  Belleville, KS.  An orange sign saying simply, "Agenda."  C.A. Picard International, Kansas division.  A Super 8, a Conoco, and a Dollar General.  The sun is through.  Another oversized load.  Three have been big, cylinders.  Tanks I presume.  That one was metal.  I figure they are underground storage tanks, for gasoline or liquid fertilizer.  Cuba to the south, "Czech music, food, and fun."

The Little Blue River.  I stopped for ice, green tea Monster Rehab, and a bathroom.  I was getting a little sleepy.  Rolling down the window helped.  Along here 36 is called "Pony Express Avenue."  Nebraska is not far away.  I meant to look at the map while I was stopped and see how far it was until Missouri, to see how long I had to go before I was home again.

***

Mile marker 283.  75° at 11:15, Thursday 9.18.2014.  2,024 trip miles.  Highway 36 is split now, two lanes on either side.  This is how it was in Missouri—split like this.  Marshall County Line.  Go, Bene, go!  Get me on down the road to MO-town.  Kansas is not as flat as I thought.  This road has done nothing but roll.  Hips and dips.  It is now mostly sunny.  There are a few low, shapeless cumulus clouds.  Very cotton ball.  G&R Polled Herefords.  Marysville, KS.  Bridge over Big Blue River and U Pac train tracks.  Two trains, one moving.  Another sign for the US-36 Treasure Hunt.  Here in Marysville, main street is Highway 36.  Red brick side streets.

Casey's, Sonic, Hardees.  Dollar General.  The Surf Motel.  I don't know where the surf is.  But there is a lake.  Verizon store.  UPS truck.  Orscheln Farm & Home.  Penny's Diner: classic diner styling, like an Airstream trailer.   Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, Wal-Mart—this place has it all!  The truck in front of me and the van in back of me both turned at Wal-Mart.

Two little white signs.  One: Junque Sale.  Two: $5 shrubs.  Seneca.  Did you know that calves weaned 30 days or less and shipped to the feed lot are more likely to contract bovine respiratory disease?  I was scanning for sports talk and heard that.  Case on one side of the street, Deere on the other.  South Fork Nemaha River.  A sign for Merz Equipment, which is located in Falls City, NE.  I went by there on my way west.  I'm getting close.  Thunder, thunder on!

A lot of beans now.  Beans and sorghum.  Getting cloudy again.  There's rain out there.  Renyer's Pumpkin Farm.  Family Fun, open September 27.  This trip was not like the advent of fall I had figured.  But I was at 74° earlier and only 68° now—Fall could be just over the river.

Fairview, a brief stretch of two lanes each way, now back to one.  Overcast and 66°.  Hiawatha, the City of Beautiful Maples.  Curving, curving again.  Wolf River.  St. Jo is but twenty miles away.  Sign for a Lewis and Clark Historic Site.  US-36 mile marker 373.  Casino White Cloud.  I'm making better time than I thought.  Witches wand!  Seventeen miles to St. Jo.  A walker.  Plastic bag, cutoff white t-shirt, army pants, tats.  Exit now for Troy.  Terraced field.  Geese on high.  Historical Marker, one mile.  Steeper rise, quicker fall, sandbags at the monument.  Kansas for lunch, Missouri for dinner.  Gun safe sale.  Wathena.  Speed checked by radar, engine braking prohibited.  More signs for the US-36 Treasure Hunt.  How big is this thing?!  Silverback bluffs in the distance.  Pony Express Bridge, Missouri River.  Hello, St. Jo, MO.

Onward east to to Cameron.

***

I made incredible time across MO on 36 and then south on 61.  Then I hit traffic in St. Peters and St. Charles.  I thought that was bad but I couldn't even get close to the airport before a backup forced me off of the abominable I-70.  Now I'm on Lindbergh going south to Midland.  Good old Midland, the middle road in the middle of my land.



XXXI.  Postscript.

I am home now on the night of Thursday September 18.  There is no Scottish result yet.  Not until morning.  I am home, short of patience but assuaged by good beer and good documentary (The Roosevelts, Episode #5).

It made me think—I have been thinking about a lot of things, more on that, more on the more of what I have to say—of waking up in my alcoholic stupor last night at 11:23 in room 207 of the Sleep Inn in Norton, KS.  The TV was on, I had fallen asleep to "The Roosevelts" (episode #4).  And as I look back on it, I fell asleep to one Eleanor and woke up to another, and then another, albeit with slightly different spelling.  I fell asleep with Eleanor Roosevelt.  I woke up to an interview by Charlie Rose with the director and two lead actors from the film "The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby" and "Him and Her."  In that moment I am shaking off the Dogfish Head Palo Santo, the Oskar Blues G'Knight IPA, and the Jack Daniels Tyler insisted I take off of his hands before he and Doug set off for old MO. I'm thinking: I don't get this, this "two film" set up for these movies; is it one scene and then other, like "Sliding Doors"?  And then J Chastain says she thought of it like "Letters from Iwo Jima" and "The Flags of Our Fathers."  The first thing going when I woke up was the trailer to "Eleanor Rigby" and I'm all..."huh, whuh?"  I look at my phone, and that other Ele()nor() has asked me, "How's Eleanor?"

I had to pause and still it all out.




—MO/NE/CO/KS,
September 2014









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