Saturday, September 24, 2011

Halfway House

September 21: Tonight was the last I will spend in a tent and with cold weather already beginning to strike the plains like a less racist John Rocker fastball my timing is just right. I was wrapped inside my sleeping bag for much of the frigid evening with the haunting pleas of the coyote and the similarly noisy approach of airplanes into Omaha jolting me out of anything resembling slumber.
The coyotes' yelps seemed to come from only a short distance away. My fear has shrunk demonstrably after spending so many nights amongst the creatures. I only peed myself a little on this occasion.
With only twenty miles left to the Nebraska border I moved slowly. Not because I wanted to, all I can think about is finishing, but I had promised my hosts in Council Bluffs, Dan and Meggan that I would show up on Thursday. Already having changed my arrival date once I was loathe to do so again.
My dilemma was solved when Dan texted to check on my progress. I told him of my plan to sleep on the trail or just grab a hotel in Council Bluffs for tonight. He threatened to stab me repeatedly with sharp knives if I didn't stay at his house so I calmly acceded to his reasonable demand.
Most of the early walking was spent on the Wabash Trace Trail, another retired railroad. This particular line had followed the migratory path of the buffalo. The animals choose the path of least resistance, avoiding hills and rivers whenever possible and we humans have often "traced" trails after these long established highways, thus the term trace.
There were indeed hills here, a rare geological feature called loess. Wind blown soil went on the traveling road of the gypsy after the last Ice Age. Freed from an ancient prison under the glaciers, the sediments gathered in hills between sixty and two hundred feet in height, mainly on the Iowa side of the Missouri River. These unusual formations are found in only one other place on earth: near the Huang He River in China.
The trail terminated slightly south of Council Bluffs and I decided to make another one of my famously rash decisions, attempting to read the minds of the ADT planners. Instead of joining 275 and taking the busy highway straight west I tried to cut the corner, heading onto another bike trail towards Lake Manawa State Park. This way I could enjoy the scenery of the Missouri River flood plain.
Little did I know, (since I'm not exactly watching the news much lately) the river is experiencing what is known as a 500 year flood, which although rare (bet you can guess how often they occur) are sort of bad. Part of the path through Manawa had been swamped by the overflow, forcing me to take off my shoes and wade through a few inches of icky water. Truly an unendurable hardship I know.
Of more concern was the fact that I was now operating off of my maps, blindly shooting west in the assumption I could somehow stumble into a river crossing. Planning is so over-rated. Did I mention I will be walking through the mountains and the desert next year? How can anything go wrong?
Dan again bailed me out with a phone call mentioning he was now off of work and could pick me up anytime. Now seemed like a good answer and luckily he was quite familiar with the park, scooping me up a few minutes later.
We were quite excited to see one another, especially me since he had a computer whose technological wizardry I could use to extrapolate my location. After doing some figuring at their home the three of us thought some celebrating of my impending finish was in order.
First let's speak some of Dan and Meggan. I had met them on a fateful day in Reinbeck, Iowa although some details of our meeting were fuzzy thanks to a strange blow to the head I must have suffered during our palaver. Dan is a baker, chef, bartender, musician, and not a candlestick maker who formerly served in the Marines. His father was also in the corps. Meggan also practices the service industry arts, working part time as a sous chef while she earns her accounting degree.
The considerate couple took me out to a place known as the German bar, because no one knows its actual name. We were very concerned not to overdo things, so we consumed only one beer, which was served in a glass boot. Someone must have slipped a mickey into the container for the rest of the night is kind of a blur, except for some vague memories of a succulent steak and tangy risotto which Dan prepared later in the evening.

16 miles/1786 total miles

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