Friday, June 10, 2011

Flat Tire

I left Gordy and Debby at about 6:30 in the morning.  Gordy told me that I should avoid the heat by leaving early. He was getting up to leave for Cheyenne that early anyway.  I biked to Gillette, ninety-seven miles away.   The ride was the scenic Wyoming that I’m getting used to—open spaces with buttes and little hills, canyons, and cattle.  I didn’t plan on going that far, but I felt good and didn’t have much else to do.  Gillette was too big for my liking, though, at about 40,000 people.  Also, its coal mines supply fifty-three percent of the nation’s power.  I biked past a surface mine coming into town.  It was smelly and ugly and made me unhappy.  I reached the McDonalds in Gillette and had to wash dirt off of my face and arms.  Usually, I just have to wash salt off of my face and arms.  I chilled in the McD’s for a bit, ate some peanut butter.

Cities usually have lodging that is too expensive for me, so I bounced.  At about 6:30 PM, I came across Rozet, a tiny one-bar town fifteen miles away, and decided it was about time to look for a place to sleep.  I walked into the bar.  (This is not the beginning of a joke.)  Five people were in there, including the bartender.  I asked the bartender about free or inexpensive campgrounds.  She laughed.  “Not much around Rozet but ranches and coal mines.  But,” she said, “I’m sure Bobbi would let you pitch a tent on her lawn.”  Then, she asked Bobbi, who happened to be two stools to my left.  “Oh, my dear,” Bobbi said, “why would you want to do something like that?”  But Bobbi was cool with it.

Bobbi was a spunky elderly lady.  She laughed loudly and had lots of jokes.  She was drinking with her friend Bobbi.  Both Bobbi’s were from California.  The Bobbi’s and the bartender and I chatted.  Eventually, it was arranged that I would sleep in the guest bedroom.

Walt, Bobbi’s husband, walked in and sat down. He and I were introduced.  We chatted away.  I found out that Walt and Bobbi were on their weekly date, so I sat at the bar and tried not to disturb the love birds while they had dinner.  They moved to a table to look at a menu.  I stayed at the bar to chat with my new friend, Bill, on the stool to my left.  He retired to Wyoming after his stint in the navy.  He was from Wisconsin.  He spent much of the conversation trying to give me advice about highways and places.  We drank Coors, and he told me that Manitowoc, Wisconsin didn’t exist.  “Ain’t no such ferry from Manitowoc to anywhere.  Milwaukee, maybe,” he said.  “You better check Milwaukee.”  I didn’t listen much to what he said about the roads.  I figured he just wanted to give advice, drop some knowledge on me.

The bartender took Bobbi and Walt’s order, and Bobbi said, “Rob, you must be damn hungry.  Let us buy you dinner.  You’re not a vegan, are you?”  I said, “No, just tried elk for the first time a few days ago.”  She said, “Good.  That’s good meat.  Order a hamburger.”  So I did.  

 We ate, and I loaded my bike into the back of her huge ass truck, and we headed down the road.  Bobbi may not have been the most politically conservative person that I’ve ever met, but she was the most outspoken.  “I’m an American,” she said. “I’m a capitalist.  I think the government should keep the hell away from our rights.  Let businesses do business.  Obama’s all gung-ho for wind power.  The coal industry out here provides jobs and a strong economy.  Treehuggers out there will tell you how bad the coal is for the earth, but, frankly, it’s damn beautiful where I live, and we provide half the power in the country.  You graduated from one of the liberal colleges didn’t you?  No?  Hallelujah, thank God there are still conservative colleges out there.  Now, Obama doesn’t know shit about Wyoming.  He’s never been here, save for Yellowstone.  The black smoke you see in the air.  That’s mostly steam.  And the surface mines?  The mining company puts the soil back in place and ninety-eight percent of the land is restored.”

She let me take a shower, then she gave me some milk and homemade everything cookies and told me to relax.  I turned on the television and sat on the couch to watch the NBA finals.  She sat in a leather Lazy Boy, and talked at me about how she thinks white people are giving up their rights for political correctness and equality.  I said, “Man, I wish Dirk Nowitzki would cut his hair.”  And she said, “Hell yes.”

She had fried eggs, sausage, and biscuits waiting for me in the morning.  We watched Fox News.  I left shortly after breakfast.

Devil’s Tower National Monument was about sixty miles away.  That seemed like an easy day.  I planned to camp there.  I biked fifteen miles into Moorcroft and chilled at a gas station, trying to relax after all that Fox News and white supremacy with Bobbi.

At 2:30 PM, I left for the tower.  Thirty miles in, I got a flat tire.  I took it pretty easy, sitting down to eat some Mini Spooners before I changed the tire.  I unpacked the back of my bike, flipped my bike over, took the wheel off, took out the tube, checked the tire for foreign objects, got my fresh tube, put it on, and pumped it up.  Two-thirds of the way into pumping, the fresh tire started to leak air.  Damn.  That was my only spare.

Assessing my situation: I was thirty miles from the nearest town; it was about 5:30 PM; and I didn’t have any muffins.  I thought, “What would MacGiver do?”  So I pulled out my electrical tape and my tube of toothpaste and tried to patch the tube.  I smeared an ample amount of paste over the leak, and applied an intricate taping job.  I taped it like it had turf toe.  I pumped up the tube, attached it to my bike, repacked my equipment, and started out.  I didn’t hear any air leaking.  “The years of having abnormally large, clumsy toes are paying off,” I thought.

I went half a mile, and my tire was flat again.  Damn.  I walked to the nearest home to ask for assistance.  A man was outside, taking apart some wooden pallets.  He was elderly.  His name was Otis.  His glasses magnified his eyes by at least fifty percent.  I apologized for disturbing him so late in the evening, but he said that it happens all the time.  Apparently, people, about two or three a year, often asked for assistance at his house.  He was a mechanic.  We looked at the tube and looked at the tire.  He told me to give the tire a good look in the sunlight for anything stuck in there.  I found a piece of metal that I had missed on my first inspection.  That was the second time in this trip that I’ve felt stupid.  The first time was when I had put my head through a car window.  Bike tubes are less costly than car windows.  So things seem to be improving.

Otis looked for his patch kit but couldn’t find it.  He called his son.  His son didn’t have one.  He figured he’d have his granddaughters pick up a new tube at Wal-Mart.  They were in Gillette for youth group.  They wouldn’t be back until around 10 PM.  He invited me inside to wait.  I met his wife, Linda, and two of his granddaughters.  One granddaughter, Brittany, the oldest of the granddaughters, had finished her first year of college.  For her summer job, she drove a coal truck in the mine, one of those coal trucks with tires that are taller than a person, hauls 400 tons.  The younger granddaughter, whose name I can’t remember, which is sad because she was the flyest one, seemed to be in late elementary school.

Linda and Otis invited me to stay with them for the night.  I accepted.  We chilled, watched Fox News.  Linda gave me a dish of Hamburger Helper type of casserole, only homemade, with venison in it.  So good.  Otis took me for a drive to see his property and look for wildlife.  We didn’t see any wildlife, but I learned that he was the third generation in his family to live on that land.  

The granddaughters, Madison and Jordon, arrived with bicycle tubes.  They were around high school age.  All of the granddaughters and I sat down to play cards.  It was a good time.  I learned much about small town life in Wyoming, and I learned how to play the card game Hand and Foot.  My grandma plays that.  We’ll play when I get back home.

We had scrambled duck eggs and pancakes for breakfast.  Duck eggs are smokier tasting than hen eggs.  They have more protein, too, I guess.  At breakfast, we chatted about the rest of my journey.  I was told that the town of Hulette was having a rodeo the weekend coming.  I said that I’d stop by.  Linda packed me a lunch, and all of us said good bye, and I departed.

I rode by Devil’s Tower.  It’s a big rock, the one from the movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind.  By the time I saw it up close, it was kind of hyped up for me.  I thought about camping there, but I didn’t want to mess with the entrance fee or trying to sneak around the entrance fee.  

I’m tuckered out.  It’s not the bicycling that has me tuckered out.  It’s where I’m spending my nights.  Camping on the side of the road has me tuckered because it’s stressful trying to find a place to stay that’s legal or hidden, then I have to worry about moving out early in the morning as to not look suspicious or to not get caught.  And spending the night in people’s houses has me tuckered because of all the energy I use talking and entertaining the hosts and trying to be a good guest.  

I figured I’d get to Hulett, find a nice campground, and chill for the weekend at the rodeo.  Rest.  So here I am in a tent at a campground in Hulett.  I told Grace the campground lady about the bike trip and that I was on a budget of ten dollars a day.  Grace said that the owner of the campground was very generous, and, when he returned from Portland, she was sure that he’d work something out with me.  

I stayed here last night.  I’ll stay here two more nights.  It’s peaceful, and I’ve been sleeping most of the day.  For lunch, Grace gave me some rice and beans with hamburger and a slice of rhubarb pie.  I ate that, and, now, I think that I might read.

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