Thursday, May 17, 2012
Purty Dirty Thirty
I left Sandy Channel early in the morning thinking I would have an easy day, with Johnson Lake a bit outside of the usual mileage target. My legs had other ideas. Maybe I would stop at the Williamsburg Church. Too soon, my legs spoke, keep on moving. Maybe I could stealth camp behind the Plum Creek Cemetery. The area was wooded with soft ground and included a rare treasure on the Plains: shade.
My legs again demurred. Perhaps they were a bit superstitious. The cemetery commemorated one of the greatest massacres carried out on the drive west. Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians attacked a group of sixteen pioneers, killing the thirteen men and taking the two children captive. One woman, Mrs. James Smith, was able to hide in the cattails and evade the attackers. The survivors fared only slightly better than those already dead. Mrs. Smith is said to have spent the rest of her days in an asylum, her mind unable to cope with the terrible things she had seen. Danny Marble, the boy captive, was ransomed by the Indians, only to die of typhoid fever before his father could retrieve him. Only young Nancy Morton survived to record the tragic events for posterity.
Past Plum Creek I began to run into the Tri-County Canal. The area west of Kearney was thought by 19th settlers to be unfit for agriculture due to a lack of precipitation. The local Burlington Northern was not extended in that direction. As a result, the area saw little development until 1934, when the pains of the Great Depression caused the state government to try to ease the plight of the Central Nebraskan farmer. The result was the Tri-County Canal, designed not to facilitate commerce like other canals I've visited, but rather to supply water for agricultural irrigation.
The waterway looked rather peaceful and by now I was twenty miles in and desirous of a nap by the side of the road. My legs would not let me, continuing onward regardless of my complaints. By six I reached the road just south of Phillips Lake Recreation Area. A seemingly unused park, I had been able to find little information online regarding camping and facilities. The road shown on Google Maps didn't even seem to actually go into the park. With my water supply low, this time my brain concurred with my legs and we headed further west.
By now I was only a few miles from Johnson Lake. I wasn't scheduled to reach the home of my hosts, Ron and Kathy Fowler, until tomorrow. I didn't want to surprise them unannounced, but my phone could not hold a signal.
Around eight o'clock I finally reached the entrance to the lake. My legs had finally quit, ever ounce of stubbornness drained by the thirty mile journey. I entered the Cenex gas station and inquired within if anyone knew the Fowlers. The woman at the register did and dialed them up for me. Ron answered and I told him of my strange inability to stop. He took my early arrival in stride and offered to come pick me up from the Cenex. The longest mileage day yet was over.
29 miles (first mile was off trail)/2118 total miles
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