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 pruned 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.  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, HD, & Ezra Pound.  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 says, "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."

And...scene!

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."  She pulled the goat out of a bucket, one with a spin-top lid that seemed to spin off so easily... and said, "This is what it looks like."  Ok, then.  I had gone up to the counter and 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 says.  "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 much, in a little jar behind her.

"What about Golden Goat?" I say.  She asks the other budtender if she (the other budtender) has any goat left.  The response affirmative, my St. Chuck budtender went and got it from under the counter, opened the top, and showed me a heap of little buds filling up about a third of the bucket.  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 stepping into 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.

















Thursday, September 04, 2014

Meramec State Park, August 22-24


I wrote nothing the whole time at Meramec.  We camped, we floated, we sweated.  Friday I camped with one of my five cousins, Lyle.  He picked me up in his Sierra.  I gave him a quick tour of the house.  His brother had been here, a few years ago at holiday time.  We crawled along Hanley and I regretted having suggested we go that way.  Big Bend, Jack—quit forgetting about Big Bend.

Just getting my camp gear loaded into the truck I was sweating.  He was sweating at work and never stopped.  He must've hauled ass to get to my place when he did—left the mill at 3:50, down 70 to Soulard, fight the good fight along 64/170 to College City—I expected him at 5:30 but he got here at ten after.  I was only a third of the way through a manhattan solidarity said I should have.  But solidarity lost its good fight.

Once we hit 44 the congestion faded away and he drove in the left lane most of the way.  We made small talk, I wondered if he could smell the bourbon on my breath.  I was comfortable.  He had the country going.  At Sullivan I told him it was his call—he drove, he could have his pick of where to eat. It was the first time I'd been to Steak 'n' Shake since an ill-fated venture out to the St. Charles Oktoberfest three years ago.  But this time my vanilla shake shook out within minutes and as I spooned that cold ice cream into my mouth—oooh, and a little whip cream mixed in—I couldn't complain about anything.  We both got Frisco Melts.  Our server's name was Ciara.  I poured a pool of ketchup over and over.  Lyle likes their fries.  I tried not to talk too much about the future—that night, the next day.  I don't believe I had told him that The Vonage was coming down for the float—or no, I did say I thought they were coming, that they had reserved kayaks.  And Lyle was asking me why I wasn't willing to say I was sure they were coming if they had already reserved kayaks.  Lyle doesn't really know me yet.

It's not far down 185 south of the Sullivan turnoff to Meramec State Park.  I had guessed it would take us ten minutes but it was more like four.  The campground is still a ways in once you enter the park.  At the check in "shack" I said the reservation was under "Paley"—sites 108 and 110.  The gal who checked us in said, "You guys are gonna be roughin' it."  I think she was kind of giving us shit but also being a little flirty.  I say, "You mean the heat?"  "Yeah," she says.

I don't know when it happened.  Maybe it was that brief downpour of acid rain in the the early Oughts but I have become one of the worse small talk/flirters in the world.  So then I'm like, "Ha ha—well, I'm not gonna make any promises about Saturday night but we'll make do tonight and blah blah blah blah blah, barf."  I should have been like, "I've camped in the blanking Mojave Desert, hun.  This ain't nothin."  That would have been only a half-truth, of course.  But I think that's what most people tell, most of the time.

We proceeded past the showerhouse and around the loop to our site, 110, the end cap—very close to what I would have called the check-in station but Lyle later referred to it as a "shack" and I really like that description, so I'm going with it.

He had borrowed a tent from his buddy in Covington, where some of our family is buried.  I gave him a hand in setting it up but I had no wisdom as to this tent: an eight-seater reliant at points on a sort of light metal scaffolding.  There was some trial and error.  I'm good at setting up our little two-seater—Eureka!—but on a lot of other tents I must confess.  We were both sweating already, it was a little after seven.  He was set up, I was slowly going about mine—that was probably around the point we cracked the first round of Busch of the weekend—the first but not the last I assure you.

I did not put the fly on my tent.  We were both under the gracious shade of a big walnut, flanked by several slightly smaller ashes.  There was no breeze.  It was low nineties and humid as Mel Tormé.  Heat index 100, my guess.  He opened the french doors on one side of the Sierra and we had the Cardinals going on 102.1 Sullivan—the game was broadcast from Philadelphia.  It was nice.  In the back of that Sierra was a truck width, three sticks high, of Grade A Illinois firewood—that stack was the shape of a burden assumed, an endeavor lifted from one Minty-Meier and passed to another, who eagerly—or unwittingly—accepted it and ran.  He's a teepee method firestarter, and he doesn't mess around with the sort of small-stick teepees I've trotted out there in campfires past.  His thinking is, if I can translate: if you've got good, dry wood you put it out there and you set fire to it and it's not really any more complicated than that.  So he had three or four good-sized logs of wood teepeed against each other, and then he was using sheets of the Illinois AgriNews as an accelerant.

I had prepared a bag of "smaller stuff"—twigs, paper bark—but I don't believe we used any of that until Saturday morning.  Because he pulled out a blanking torch, like a real torch, a propane soldering torch—oh, and I didn't even mention the tikis he'd brought, stuck in the ground, filled, and lit.  He was trying to get the soldering torch lit using the flame from one of the tikis but he had a little trouble at first.  He had some sort of tip on the torch that didn't have a big enough opening—it's beyond me.  He got the torch going soon enough and then he just sat there in a camp chair, shirtless, holding that torch to the middle of the teepee structure.  He might have thrown a few shards in there, as kindling.  Eventually the construct achieved its own unique critical heat and like a kid shucking off training wheels, it was on its way.  We did not cook on the fire Friday night.  We sat there for a little while and had one or two more Busch beers.

It got dark shortly after I was done setting up my tent and tossing my bag and mat in there.  I cracked the bomber of Firestone Walker dry-hopped Opal saison and poured half into either of our two metal camp mugs.  It was a hell of a good beer.  Lyle loved it.  I tasted grapefruit.  Very bright, very flavorful.
Farmhouse-y.  We talked about beer for a while.  I smoked a Parliament—which he asked about, calling them "P-Funks", a nickname of which I am aware but had not heard in some time.  Eventually he had one but to advance that far in the story I leave a lot out.  Hell, I have to leave a lot out.  I've left a lot out already.  I'm torn between doing a general recap and attempting to try to tell you what really happened.

He was eating Chees-Its.  I didn't accept any.  Once that fire got going it was really going and he kept dropping logs on it.  I was enjoying myself.  We talked about work, about our brothers.  About our aunt and uncle who'd recently been through town.  By that time it'd cooled down somewhat.  I was back on Busch but at some point I drank a Maltopia—one hell of a scotch ale.  I cannot recall if the walk we took to the boat ramp—cutting thru RV sites as we went, something I would never do on my own, or with B—was before or after we went and took us each a shower.  I think the walk was after.  We saw a skunk on that walk.  We stepped into the river.  It looks stagnant at first glance, especially in the dark.  But it moves—quietly, below the surface.  By that time of the night the dew point had been hit and any grass you moved through was as wet as a lawn in a thunderstorm.  Lyle was up for anything and everything.  Back at the campsite I got my tunes going and when Jagwar Ma was on he said, "This song is crazy."  I didn't eat anything after the Steak 'n' Shake.  I was worried about heartburn.  All of my worries.  We were talking about guns.  They have a gun under their bed.  I said I couldn't have one because my mental health wasn't all that good.  And I will never forget this, his immediate response to this was, "Oh, fuck you.  You're fine."  I love it.  I'm carrying that with me.  My dad tells me to relax—but he's my dad. My wife tells me to relax—but she's my wife.  Even Bobby, at pool league this last week, as I was fighting for my manhood (which eventually I lost) got right up in my face and said, "You need to calm the fuck down."  And it's Bobby and Lyle, who know me less, but still know me a little—it's their two very similar pieces of advice that I'm taking with me out of this most recent week of my life.   They're both right, of course.  But applying their advice, that'll be the hard part.

Lyle kept after that Busch.  I had my share, too.  He said I shouldn't feel I have to keep up with him but I didn't want to turn in before he did.  I was mesmerized by the fire.  The logs he was dropping on it weren't cheapies!  It was a hot, low-smoke, babe of a fire.  The best since Spring Farm, which I talked a  lot about, so much so I guess that Lyle, upon meeting The Vonage the next day, relayed to Pat that I had talked about the V-Farm "all night."  Well, maybe I did.  So what.  I just said we could shoot guns there and play frisbee and drink Busch and hoot and holler and live a little, is all I said.  Ha ha, it's late here now on Sunday and I want to make sure I say something about camping with my youngest cousin, who picked me up in his big ole truck and brought wood and crushed Busch and really really wanted to get into Fischer Cave.  Who was enamored with The Vonage.  Whose wife, Mia, is a sweetheart.  Who loved the pie iron, who wore red sandals, who might be my best camping ally yet—who is my family, and my blood, who lives really not all that far away.

Highlights.  I want to list just highlights now because this might be the remnants of what I have to say.  We got to the float concessionaire rather late: 9:46a for a 9:30 check in.  I hadn't even put my suit on yet.  B and Mia had gotten to our site at 8:12, which was about what I figured but I wasn't quite prepared, I was still a tad groggy.  I had just forced myself to get my business done at the showerhouse—that was stress enough.  Lyle didn't feel the urgency I did.  In all of the haste to check in for the float I forgot to bring sunglasses.  I mean, seriously.  But I'm burying the lede.  I had not told B that The Vonage were going to be joining us for the float.  It was a total surprise!  And they didn't know that she didn't know.  I was very happy with myself for keeping that secret sacred once the opportunity presented itself.

We took our time on the float.  Along with a fresh 12 of Busch, Lyle had gotten a Meramec State Park frisbee at the float shop.  We used it quite a bit.  It took me just about the whole float to figure out how to throw it without a major slice.  My right bicep is sore today, I think from the frisbee.  It was a hot day and I kept comparing the Meramec—its translucence and turbidity—to the Current.  Totally unfair.  It was a good float.  We had six and I talked to them all, we all enjoyed ourselves.  I had some beers and eventually a little Old Crow Reserve but water was my main focus.  In my haste-makes-waste prep for the float, I didn't grab enough water for the float.  I had to resort to drinking the ice-melt water from the cooler, which was a delightful sort of pleasure.  It didn't taste all that great but it was cold.  The Meramec itself, at this time of year, and along the stretch of river we floated, was fairly warm.  Probably low seventies.  Much warmer than the cool air and even colder water coming out of the cave at the 3.5-mile mark.  That was about the same spot where the solitary fella floating a canoe with his half-pit bull/half labrador Max pitched a tent on a rock bar and began to kick back for the rest of the day.

It's ten p.m. now on Sunday night.  My neck hurts, my feet hurt.  I am crutching on things to power through.  B noted I didn't write much during this camp weekend.  "I didn't write at all," I tell her.  She says, "Well, you still can."  And I'm telling her it's just not that easy.  If I go to sleep tonight, and wake up tomorrow; if and when I have tomorrow's coffee and I bludgeon through tomorrow's commute and I go through a Monday at work.  If after all of that I come back to this selfsame desk and imagine I can just sit down and start la-la writing about what a great weekend we had camping, we did x y and z and this is what he said she said.  No.  It doesn't work that way.  Not for me.  If there is a moment yet remaining for me to write about this weekend it is now or never.  My grains of sand are falling fast and there isn't much left above the waist.

We milked the float as much as we could, ending at 4:15 or so.  Vonage went home, didn't have their camp stuff, we had lost site 108 anyway.  It was stultifying, stupid, useless hot.  And it would give me and B a chance for some "couples one on one" with Lyle and Mia anyhow.  We stopped at the park store—ice and beer—fire, ice, and beer—the coast is clear.  It was us four in the Subaru.  We went back to the site, oh there was no breeze.  It was brutal, can't lie.  Until the sun went down we were playing a waiting game, there wasn't much a person could do.  Me and Lyle did manage to throw the frisbee around a little more though.  I went and showered after that.  The ladies had already done so.  Site 110 (our site) is very close to the showerhouse.  That fact and its abundance of shade made it one heck of a site at that particular moment in time.  Lyle was ready for a fire right away even though I was thinking, "Crikey, it's so hot why not wait."  But a campfire is always nice to have, even in the heat.  It's like the TV in your apartment you come home and turn on, for background if for no other reason.  We got back to the Busch.  Mia had gotten some Bud Light Lime.  I was still cognizant of water too.  I was refilling empty bottles and stashing them in the icy cold water of the coolers for later use.

It was smoother sailing once it got dark.  Lyle meted out what fluid he had left for the several tiki torches.  The fire was perfect, B made chicken taquitos in the pie iron.  Lyle had 93.7 going from his truck—"Drunk on the Plane" is a current hit—and then eventually we had the Cardinals game from Philly, what became a 12-inning ordeal.

I am flagging big-time.  I am considering all possible reserves I could tap to keep this account going.  I have to work tomorrow!  What's more important?  Only time will tell.  But let me tell you just a little about how someone DESTROYED the men's bathroom with an EBOLA-STYLE shit-storm late Saturday night; about how this person, or small gang of errant shitters, clobbered one toilet and then proceeded to leave their tailings all up and down the floor of the men's side of the showerhouse, not just on the "toilet" side but some on the "shower" side, too.  I mean, the only thing I can figure is that someone absolutely lost themselves at the toilet and then made a pants-down run for a full-body cleaning in one of the shower stalls, their wake be damned.  It's one of the most incredible things I've ever seen and I'm still shaking my head just thinking about it.

I'm spent.  There's so much left to say.  I want to talk about the cave we couldn't get into and the uppity aloof cave restoration people and the midnight hike on the half-mile Walking Fern Trail and how B did that tricky hike without wearing a headlamp or carrying a flashlight!  Mia did it in flip flops!  At the outset we were looking at a sort of opening in the woods that kind of looked like a trail and Mia said, "If that's the trail I'm not doing it."  As it turned out, that was where we exited after having done the hike.  It was actually a pretty cool midnight hike.  I had my headlamp on and as I trained it on the trail I would frequently see something bright and metallic and green reflecting back at me.  It was a spider with its head full of eyes.  We never found a way into the cave, though I suspected there had to be a backdoor entrance somewhere.

We slept well.  I woke up at 6 or so and got in my hammock.  It was actually a little chilly then.  We had eggs and bacon and doubleshots.  I went back to the bathroom and it was still a mess.  Later Lyle went and he didn't have anything to say about it.  I had to ask him.  "Somebody hosed it down," he said.  Thank God!  We were all moving pretty good, it was still early.  B was showing off her mad pie-iron skills.  I got my camera out and propped it up to take a candid timer-shot.  I hustled back into its field but I didn't get myself squared up in time.  There was still a little wood left over after we were all done.  Lyle had me take it, I'm grateful.  Him and Mia followed us most of the way back up Interstate 44, doing my speed, not gating us like 99% of other people would.  We parted company at the 270/44 split.  Lyle honked once and I put my hand out the window and was waving.



—St. Louis,
August 24, 2014













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