Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Familiar Road

I woke up in my tent around one am, and since I've learned that I just don't sleep very soundly in the tent, I just listened to the sounds, and stared up at the stars for a while, hoping to see a meteorite or two. At one point, I could feel something, a weird sensation around the back of my neck, and then a crawling sensation, as if something were crawling in my neck. I reached my hand around and felt something insect-like, pulled it away, but then started to get that weird feeling you get when a bunch of bees sting you, sort of a head rush. Hard to describe. Then, a definite, sharp pain right at the nape of my neck. I feel the spot again, and already there's a big knot of swelling forming. I'm thinking "what? Are there tarantulas in Wyoming?" I had my screen door totally zipped shut too. Then I rolled over and-- woke up. The whole insect biting thing had been a dream, and confirmation that I did in fact fall asleep sometime between two-thirty and three-thirty. Relief.

I dozed until my alarms started going off (two each in my watch and cell phone). Quietly got up and walked to the showers. I hadn't noticed this before, but the men's showers at the Chuckwagon RV Campground have quite an art collection. There are five versions of the famous "Dogs Playing Poker" series, shellacked to pieces of tree bark. I have always liked those pictures. Maybe because I was very young when I first noticed them. I wonder what art the women get?

I still had about an hour of darkness, so I boiled water for coffee as I took down the tent and started packing the trailer. I knew this was the last time I'd be cooking, so I just let the stove go for a long time, burning off those pounds of white gas.

And now for a short commercial break: Did I mention that I have been drinking coffee from my very own Revolution Mugs coffee cup? If you haven't ordered yours, better get going. This mug has traveled hundreds of miles with me now. A much more satisfying weight to drag over mountain passes than the one-pound box of tasteless linguini, or the 6 heavy packs of albacore tuna and chicken breast.

Now back to our story.

Today was super humid, and this morning would be my first IFR departure of the trip. A heavy but shallow ground fog had formed, just at sunrise, and as I headed east on highway 26, the sun was a huge white disk you could stare at just as easily as the moon. The road shoulders were smooth, the highway was flat, and the miles just melted by. As always, rural drivers almost always move over half a lane to pass, even if I'm six feet away in an eight foot shoulder. I've even seen oncoming cars drive on the far side rumble strip, as if I'm radioactive or something. This would be amazing behavior in the Puget Sound basin.

Highway 26 is arrow-straight as it leads past these last few towns into Scottsbluff. Fortunately, the towns are spaced six to eight miles apart, so the entertainment value is a little higher. I had planned to have a real breakfast in Lingle, but the diner there apparently closed its doors (I was told this by a woman working at the gas station, where I picked up a maple-bar-ish twisty something pastry to tide me over) last summer. Next town: Torrington, Wyoming, where I found the 77 Grill at a big truck stop. Apparently the only place open, because it was hopping. I got my fill and continued down the road. Torrington is also the town closest to the farm of my Grandparents on my Mom's side. It's all dirt roads to get out there, and no one left who would know me, so I don't think I'll be riding out that way this time.

The sequence of little towns down this road is a very familiar and nostalgic path for me, as I have counted my way down these last miles many times from the back seat of my parent's car as we traveled each summer to Scottsbluff. I remember sometimes we competed to see who could be the first across the state line. The best way to do this was to be crafty and pretend you weren't really thinking about it, and just happen to be in the front seat when that border was approaching. That way you could just make sure one of your feet was farther forward than the driver's right foot. But, you had to be careful, there might be a last-second lunge over the seat backs, and a pair of hands attempting to reach up under the dashboard.

I reached the Nebraska border at ten am, and almost immediately, the town of Henry, with the fading, hand painted sign "Welcome to Henry, Scottsbluff County, Home to a Undergound Environmental Hazard." Then Morrill, Mitchell, and now I was finally in visual contact with the bluff itself, the national monument which shares its name with the town and county.

Scottsbluff National Monument is a fascinating place to visit, both for the history, as well as the geology. Right next to the bluff is Mitchell Pass, a point along the Oregon Trail where you can still see the ruts made by wagon trains that rolled through so long ago.

So humid today, the air feels thick and hard to breathe, plus in the last few miles, of course I pick up a little headwind. Still it's exciting to arrive in this fashion, and I can hardly believe I'm finally here. One more Twilight Zone (Outer Limits?) moment just after Mitchell, where the grasshoppers which heretofore had been hopping out of my way as I ride, are suddenly jumping right at me, and onto me from all sides. Reminded me of that episode where the couple is marooned in the desert overnight, and have to deal with attacks from sage brush, and then frogs.

As I ride along highway 26, I pass by Sunset Memorial, the cemetery where all my grandparents, and an uncle are buried. I stop and think about taking a break to go look at the markers, but after watching the traffic (65 speed limit, divided highway), I decide that a visit isn't worth the risk of joining them prematurely and permanently. I imagine my grandad Dale understanding my decision as I ride away. A couple of passing cars give a toot and hold out a peace sign, not sure what that's about. Finally, a right turn off the highway onto fifth avenue, past the Appleby's where a few fun family evenings were spent after my grandmother's funeral a few years back. A left turn, and... oops, streets are counting opposite the way I anticipated, I'm on sixth, u-turn, back the other way, there's the old Terry mansion, and another landmark, old Ford pickup, and I'm here!

Thinking: Shower. Glass of wine. Pizza. Sitting. (Made me think of Borat. "Look at me, I am sitting on a chair.") Send a text to Theo. Oh, and finally I can make a quick run to the grocery store for shaving implements. I look like Gabby Whiskers. No wonder people are afraid of me when I roll into town.


  1. Congratulations, Kevin. What a feat!
    It never occurred to me before why they called it Scotts Bluff. It looks beautiful, in a Nebraska sort of way. When will you be home? Chris has been bugging me to have beer. We wait to drink you.

  2. Way to go Kevin! I've enjoyed the your travelogue to Scottsbluff.

  3. Congrats! Say hi to my peeps for me.

  4. Look at you, you're sitting in a chair! Congratulations, and see you soon in Seattle.


  5. Did you take a photo of the bathroom art at the Chuckwagon camp ground? Oh, and congratulations. But I already told you that in the much more personal text communication we had.

  6. Hi Kevin, wow, am I impressed that you are carrying the extra weight of a mug! (I would do the same, I think!) Great blog, thanks for sharing your adventures. Owen

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  8. Lu and I have enjoyed the hell out of reading your adventures - especially a big catch up the other day after getting back from our own (infinitely cushier) trip to Alaska. Lu has enjoyed listening to them - she got the audiobook version from me. So thanks for the privilege of tagging along on your strange Western odyssey. You had us on the edges of our tenterhooks a few times there, pal - but I have to say that this latest entry tops them all, with is recurrent David Lynch vibe. Nice mugs, yours & yours - gabby whiskers! On to the final post.