I didn’t have to wait long…there was a mile-long coal train or a container-stacked flat-car freight rolling by every ten minutes. While it was still daylight, I would walk over as near to the tracks as I could to feel that “rush” as the tons of steel rolled by. I retreated to the comfort of Ol’ Baleau, still watching those powerful units pulling all that load, and then, all of a sudden realizing, those same trains would be inexorably pulling themselves over Donner Pass, some 1,500 miles west of where I was sitting.
Then I thought, what a long time ago it seemed since I was at Donner Lake, either thrashing about in the inimitable clear and cool water, making like a Mark Spitz, or kibitzing with the anglers. So much had happened since then. The memories kept regurgitating, like back at Lochsa Lodge, where I was remembering the good times. Then, with a big smile, I recalled the mangy “house” mongrel that hung out in the bar. In deference to the dog, he was the spittin’ image of George Booth’s canine cartoon character in the New Yorker magazine. Ol’ Spot would amble in, and just plop down on the floor next to the bar stools, making people step over him as they walked in (or out). That critter knew his place in the scheme of things.
I was figuratively “licking my wounds” as I was administering medication to a superficial cut on the lower left leg. But that was just one out of many nicks, cuts, scratches, and bruises that I had accumulated on my anatomy, specifically, between the knee and the big toe. Heck, I just assumed these minor incisions were an integral part of camping out, sort of like a cause-and-effect syndrome. Then again, I felt like the kid who couldn’t play in the backyard without his mom looking after him. Well, I was just a kid of sixty, going on six…and loving every minute of it.
My journeys are paradoxical: I go east when I should go west; I go north when I should go south; and I sleep by trains to put me to sleep, and I sleep by trains to wake me up. As I was scrambling out of the van the next morning, this guy comes up out of nowhere, and abruptly asked if I worked for the railroad. When I told him of my plight, he responded, “Hey, don’t you know it’s dangerous parking this close to the tracks? We had a freight jump the tracks just down the way a week ago…cars were spilled all over the siding.” I got the picture, and thanked him for his concern. Notwithstanding his admonishment, I felt no guilt for my quixotic decision to park next to a potential disaster. All I could think about was, if one lives in a culture of fear, one cannot reap the joys of the unexpected…especially on the road.
I headed south through Kansas, coming precariously close to the geographical center of the U.S. of A. (about thirty miles east at Lebanon). I made a stop at Hays, to garner a couple of classic Kansas license plates at an antique store. Holy Cow, was I ever happy with the plates that I had collected on this trip…it was like a mission accomplished. Now, all that mattered was getting on the easy road (the Interstate), and head south to Big D. It was day 50, and the trip was winding down.