stuck in alma

I’ve been wandering Kansas now for a few days, and I’ve been getting somepretty good shots with my camera. When I get home, I expect I’ll be busyprinting for a long time.

After leaving Laramie, I camped at the Cabela’s RV park in Sydney, Nebraska.It was a nice, modern (sterile) RV park. (The most interesting thing aboutthe campground was the notice of how to find the tornado shelters.) I didlaundry, took a shower, and wrote the previous journal entry (‘Laramie‘).

The next morning I checked out the Cabela’s store, whose motto is “WorldsForemost Outfitter ™”. Yes, the motto is in quotes, and it’strademarked. Does that mean that they’re *not* the world’s foremostoutfitter? I’m not sure. I’m always suspicious when a claim is in quotes.Wouldn’t you be suspicious of Chicken-Fried “Steak”, “world’s largest”buffet?

What they do excel in, however, is their collection of dead animals and deadanimal parts. Their store is a taxidermist’s wet dream. In addition toabout 100 various ruminant heads and bodies (yawn), they have wolves, awolverine, a badger, a polar bear, a hippo (!), an elephant (!!), and twoelephant tusks (!!!). And that’s just a partial list. All of the deadanimals are arranged in lifelike ‘action’ poses. For example, the coyote ischasing a jackrabbit, turning a tight corner around a boulder to chase thewily wabbit, which is in full flight, three legs in the air.

Cabela’s doesn’t just display dead animals, however. It sells everythingyou need to kill your own. You could see men’s eyes glaze as they enteredthe store (mine too.) There were handguns and shotguns, compound bows incamo and carbon fiber, blowguns and slingshots. And there were ghilliesuits.

I love ghillie suits. They’re weird, amorphous outfits that look like apile of torn-up rags. Put one on in the woods, though, and you disappear.Someone could walk within 5 feet of you and unless you sneezed, they’d neversee you. They’re so cool. I’d love to wear one to a disco.

As I walked around Cabela’s, I actually found myself thinking how cool, how*manly* it would be to stalk and kill something. But then I thought aboutTom & Adam describing how they would have to skin and clean an elk in thefield so the meat wouldn’t rot, and I decided that it wouldn’t be that funafter all. Manly, definitely, but not for me.

I left Sydney Nebraska and drive east to Chappell. There I left theinterstate and turned south on US 385 into Colorado. I passed through thetowns of Amherst and Holyoke, and thought that some early settler was eitherhomesick or had a twisted sense of humor. (Amherst and Holyoke are twoneighboring college towns in Massachusetts.) Amherst was little more than arail depot with a large grain elevator. Holyoke was much more of acommunity, with paved streets lined with trees, green lawns, and brickhouses.

I turned east again to Haigler, Nebraska (“The Cornerstone of Nebraska”),then south into the northeast corner of Kansas. The first town I hit wasSaint Francis (“A Nice Place To Live!”), coincidentally the name of my van.(I bought my van from a Franciscan priest and nun who left the order to getmarried. They drove it around Alaska together. Hence the name ‘SaintFrancis’.)

From St. Francis I drove east, passing through Bird City, whose motto is, Ikid you not, “The Only Bird City in America!”. I continued through Atwood(“A Place to Call Home”), and Oberlin (“We’re Growing!”), finally stoppingfor the night in Norton (“Where The Best Begins!”).

Norton has several claims to fame. One is that when a stage containingHorace Greely was attacked by savages, Mr. Greely was brought to Norton torecover from his wounds. Another is that Norton is the home of the Also-RanMuseum, featuring failed presidential candidates. This has to be one of thecoolest ideas for a museum I’ve ever heard. Norton also seems to have acrack BB gun team. A sign at the edge of town proclaims Norton to be “Homeof the International BB Gun Champions”, followed by a long list of years.

This morning I left Norton, heading generally northeast. A storm wasbrewing, and it rolled in fast. The sky went from blue to blue-black, andwinds knocked my van around. Weird clouds moved fast across the sky. Theradio reported severe thunderstorms, 60 mile-per-hour winds, and hail thesize of quarters. I luckily missed the hail, though later came across milesof highway with large piles of hail alongside, like white bands edging thetarmac.

At one stop, two guys came up and started talking to me about photography.They introduced themselves as Duck and Nathan, and were really nice. Nathanwas really into wildlife and landscape photography. They had finished theirchores and were on their way to fish at the lake in nearby Alma. Icontinued shooting, they continued on their way.

Later I went looking for Duck and Nathan. I am starved for human contact,and had enjoyed our brief talk about photography and Photoshop. I turneddown a road that led to “Praire Dog Bay”, thinking that they might befishing there. The road was gravel, and I was making good time.

As I came to one low spot, I noticed that there was mud across the road,with tracks through it. The right side of the road looked better, and Iavoided the deep tracks and slowly started own the right side of the road,rear wheels locked.

Bad call. The smooth looking portion of the road was just undisturbed mud,and I started sliding towards the side of the road. I turned my frontwheels, but they were unresponsive. After about 5 feet the car juststopped. And then I felt it begin to sink.

I’d never been in mud so deep that I could feel it sucking the car down, butthis time I was. I started to back out, and the car moved several feetbefore the wheels started spinning. Unfortunately, this through mud up intothe driver’s side window, which I quickly rolled up.

Then I started to rock the van, but I wasn’t getting anywhere. I opened thedriver’s door and looked down. The van was in a trough deeper than theaxles. It was pretty obvious that I wasn’t going forward, and efforts toreverse weren’t working either. The side and top of the van were covered inmud.

I got out on the passenger side, leapt over the soft stuff around me onto amore solid grassy embankment, and wondered what to do. There were no rocksaround. I cursed myself for leaving my axe in San Francisco… I *could*have chopped up some shrubs and laid them under the wheels. I wascollecting dead rotted branches and straw and laying a path out when aranger came driving down the road from the direction I was pointing.

“Ummm, I seem to have gotten myself stuck” I said, probably blushing. “Noproblem,” he said, “I have a strap. I can probably pull you out.”

We hooked up the strap to the front of my car and the back of his. (Thiswas messy. I couldn’t get to my car without sinking about 6″ into the mud.)I gave him the go-ahead, and he started pulling while I started crawling.After a moment’s hesitation while his truck fishtailed into line with thetow strap, out I came. We both turned around, he crawled through the mud(with difficulty, I was secretly pleased to see), and I followed. Followingthe tracks down the center of the road, I had no trouble getting through.Live and learn.

I spent about an hour cleaning my bus, and now I’m in a motel in Alma. Mybus is right outside the open door, and as I type this, I hear theoccasional *plop* of mud falling from somewhere in the undercarriage thatthe U-Wash nozzle didn’t reach.


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