Log Entry – Sol Three

day3 mapAfter awakening from a good night’s sleep, we partook of the usual breakfast, broke camp, and embarked on what would prove to be the most grueling leg of the journey– fucking Nebraska. Unfortunately, TK’s cold virus was full on at this point and he had been reduced to swigging cough medicine out of the bottle and swallowing Nyquil capsules. Nevertheless, we both knew what lay ahead on this leg of the expedition and we tried to steel ourselves for the arduous drive across the entire state of Nebraska in one day. Although we thought we had some idea of what this would be like, the true depth of the monotony of driving for hundreds of miles across a vast, flat, cornfield-studded landscape was unimaginable. IMG_1852On the far eastern side of Nebraska, we passed through Nebraska City. It is here that our path diverged from that of Lewis & Clark for a while. While we were proceeding almost due west, their expedition followed the river routes in a northerly direction through the Dakotas, before turning west. Our paths would merge again later in the journey. Our first planned stop of the day was at a Whole Foods Market in “cracka-lackin’ mo fuckin’ “ Lincoln, Nebraska to replenish our vittles and pick up a few necessary ingredients for meals during the second half of the journey. We purchased guacamole, salsa fresca, green bell pepper, avocados, whole milk mozzarella cheese and spicy Italian sausages. We also bought 2 six packs of local beers, a mango IPA from Empyrean Brewing Co., and an oatmeal porter from Zipline Brewery, both from Lincoln. Provisions in hand, we were soon back on the road again.

After what seemed like an eternity, in reality only about 4 hours, we arrived in North Platte, NE, proud home of the Bailey Railroad Yard, supposedly the world’s largest. Seizing the opportunity to break the drudgery of the drive, we left Cali in the car and entered the visitor’s center to purchase tickets that would allow us to climb the Golden Spike Tower to get a panoramic view of the massive railyard. IMAG1922With tickets in hand, we were told to have the souvenir ticket punched by a bespeckled old woman named Dottie who was seated in a chair against the wall outside of the gift shop. Tickets punched, Dottie instructed us to sign the guest book and rattled on about the museum, the Walk of Flags, and other “be sure not to miss” attractions that our tickets entitled us to see. She told us that the 7th floor of the tower had an open air balcony that afforded the best panoramic view for taking photographs, whereas the 8th floor had a collection of railroad memorabilia and a guide posted there to answer any questions. About this time, I noticed that a couple brought their dog inside and so I asked Dottie if the museum was “dog friendly”. We were concerned about Cali being left in the car with  the early afternoon sun beginning to warm things up. Surprisingly, Dottie did not have a clue as to whether dogs were permitted inside. As she tottered off to inquire, 1 or 2 other dogs scurried into the museum. Taking that as an affirmative, we thanked Dottie and went out to retrieve Cali. When we returned, nanoseconds later, Dottie did not remember us and asked to punch our tickets and for us to sign the guest book. Dottie, oh Dottie….. After we assured her that we had already completed the drill, she instructed us to watch a brief 3 min video, already underway, before climbing the tower. We stood and watched the documentary for a few moments and learned of the generations of North Plattians who had spent their entire lives working in this rail yard in various capacities. Fully educated, we rode the elevator to the 7th floor balcony and gazed out at the miles and miles of multiple train filled tracks and engine houses. IMAG1932I really love trains and it was indeed an impressive sight. Nevertheless, I am skeptical about their improbable claim about it being the world’s largest rail yard. Surely there must be rail yards at least this large in other countries, like in eastern Europe or China, that depend more heavily on railroads for transportation of goods and people than does the USA. After photographing the scene from the 7th floor, we ascended to the 8th floor where we were met almost immediately by our tour guide, a man named Rodney.  Rodney told us a few stories about his family and pointed out some of the other curiosities and oddities in the environs around the tower, including a corn maize (Ha!) IMAG1933and a “punkin’ patch”. There was also a field of a special multi-colored corn, which I assume is for decorative purposes because I personally do not find the idea of eating purple corn particularly appetizing. Yellow? Check. White? Check. Yellow/White? Check. Purple? Not so much.  Rodney informed us that most of the corn in the  endless miles of expansive cornfields that we drove past  is grown for animals, not humans.  I cannot imagine that all that corn is being consumed by animals. More likely, the corn growers are being paid farm subsidies to grow corn and by God they are going to grow it. What the hell else is there to do in Nebraska after you’ve solved the corn maze?

IMG_1918

The next stop in the tourist mecca of North Platte, NE was at the vacation home of the Wild West showman, Buffalo Bill Cody, called Scout’s Rest Ranch. The ranch house is a lovely Second Empire style mansion built for him in 1886 as a place where he could relax when he was in the area. It is nestled on a well-manicured lawn with shade trees and various outbuildings such as a spring house and, of course, a corn storage room with mill.

IMG_1925
Me, standing inside the spring house.

TK and I walked around the grounds a bit and took a self-guided tour of the house that contains Buffalo Bill’s furniture and tons of memorabilia from his life. There were guns and furs and decorated leather cowboy outfits worn in his shows.  The house is pretty cool and looks like Buffalo Bill just stepped out for a minute.   We both enjoyed the tour.

 

 

 

IMAG1938
Buffalo Bill’s cowboy suits

After the tour, it was time to have some lunch before getting back on the highway to be confronted once again by the unending hellish visage of corn, corn, corn. We decided to have a picnic sitting out in front of the barn on a thick carpet of dark green grass under a crabapple tree bearing reddish yellow fruit. We made wraps stuffed with prosciutto, turkey, leftover bacon, cheddar and goat cheeses and lettuce and smeared with Dijon mustard. Orgasmically delicious! A babbling brook nearby interjected our conversations with pleasant gurgles in the lulls between mouthfuls while songbirds exchanged boasts at whim, making for a very pleasant picnic.IMG_1919

On the road again, we set our sights for the West Lake campground in the Red Feather Lakes area of the Roosevelt National Forest, just over the state line between Colorado and Wyoming. We chose this site because it was in the general area where I knew the drudgery of the drive had to end and, importantly, because they accepted reservations. In the initial planning stages, our first choice was actually on the other side of the state line in Wyoming, a beautiful place called Vedauwoo campground.  Sadly, Vedauwoo did not take reservations and so we opted for the CO site instead, just to be sure that we had a spot to land at the end of a grueling day. When we were about 90 min away from West Lake, we began to experience our first sustained rainshowers on the trip. Accordingly, TK checked the weather forecast for Ft. Collins, CO, the closest “metropolis” to West Lake, and discovered that strong thunderstorms were predicted for West Lake, beginning about the time that we would be arriving and continuing on throughout the evening. We did not have any type of dining canopy under which we could gather to prepare dinner and hang out and, even if we did, it would have been terribly unsafe due to the risk of being struck by lightning. He also checked the forecast for the area around Vedauwoo and found that, although there was some rain in the forecast, it did not appear to involve thunder and lightning and we felt that we could manage with our rain gear. We had to make a snap decision – soldier on for another 90+ min to West Lake and face almost certain suck ass conditions or take a huge risk and venture to nearby Vedauwoo, not knowing if we would have a campsite available when we arrived, a situation that I had so carefully planned to avoid. However, at this point, I was completely sick of driving and borderline despondent. OK maybe that is a bit hyperbolic, but I definitely wanted nothing more than to get out of the car, set up camp, and nurse a bourbon on the rocks with bitters until I could completely erase the corn imagery from my brain. And, as my “World Famous” chili was on the menu for tonight, we would need to be able to build a fire in order to heat it up, and so the decision was made to set our sights on Vedauwoo and hope for the best. Being the ace Navigator, TK also managed to locate a few backup campgrounds in the general vicinity of Vedauwoo which afforded me some relief in case we got skunked there. In Cheyenne, WY we stopped to refuel the Queen Anne’s Revenge and visit a local microbrewery to refill the growlers that had been empty for far too long.IMAG1939

We discovered Freedom’s Edge Brewing Company and were delighted to find that they had a chili-infused ale on tap that we thought would be the perfect accompaniment to the spicy chili that awaited our palates. The second growler was filled with their IPA, just because. Cheyenne appeared to be a hip western town that I would have liked to spend more time exploring.

We arrived at Vedauwoo with light rain showers and were greeted by an absolutely stunningly B-E-A-U-tiful landscape. IMAG1946IMG_1959It is an insanely scenic spot that is a world class favorite for rock climbers due its magnificent steep stone hill formations that resemble stacked cottonballs.  We raced up the hill and around the bend and quickly located a perfect open campsite. Score!!!!

One of the first sights upon our arrival was a moose, believed to be female – no rack (wait a second, that doesn’t make sense!), wandering next to the road leading up to the camping area. A moose – how cool is that! It was meant to be. A few moments after our arrival, Ranger Rick drove past our site and I flagged him down to ask about the weather forecast for the rest of the evening. Although the rain showers had stopped and the sky appeared to be clearing, in an ominous voice he warned that more rain was on the way for the evening and the next morning. Damn, not exactly what I wanted to hear and it seemed at odds with what we were witnessing as the clouds continued to dissipate. Still, rather than ridiculing Ranger Rick’s forecast outright, we decided to not tempt fate and hope that the weather gods would take a liking to us and spare us from misery. I rushed around unpacking the car while Cali chased chipmunks and harassed other campers, mainly Canadian rock climbers, and TK set off on his appointed rounds to gather chaparral for a campfire. The terrain was rough and the task was complicated because much of what little wood was available had already been burned in a previous wildfire. Even the wooden split beam fences around the camping area were heavily charred. IMG_1973As I was going about my duties, I could see TK way off in the distance scrambling up and down hills collecting wood. Sure enough, within a very short time, we had another wonderful fire ablaze and we began preparations for dinner. IMAG1947Fortunately, this required little more than locating a clean pot and simmering the chili until it was good and hot. I made the chili a few days before we departed using my top secret recipe and froze it, allowing it to thaw slowly in the cooler as we traveled. I love to make chili and I have actually won “The People’s Choice Award” at a number of local chili cook-offs. The name of my competition chili is “Sam & Ella” chili, the name being derived as a tribute to the great singers Sam Cooke & Ella Fitzgerald.

sam&ella
First chili championship win, Charlottesville, VA circa 1999

However, if you say the name of the chili quickly, it takes on a more onerous connotation vis-à-vis food preparation. In short order, we were enjoying piping hot bowls of smoky chili combined with the chili infused ale, a most satisfactory pairing. I am pretty sure that TK liked the chili as evidenced by the fact that he consumed 3 bowls while emitting the kind of guttural grunts and inhalations one makes when enjoying something both spicy and temperature hot.IMG_1967 After dinner, we were treated to a spectacular sunset and, as the evening progressed, the cloud cover completely disappeared and the Milky Way blazed like an astral inferno above our heads. I will never forget the intensity of the stars that night, unlike any night sky I had ever observed in my life. I wish that I had my telescope on the trip because it would have been the perfect opportunity to do some deep sky gazing. Oh well, next time… After a few beers and a bourbon by the campfire, and the worst part of the drive behind us, we decided to call it a night. It was a bitter cold night at Vedauwoo with temperatures in the upper 30s and a constant wind. I guess that is to be expected at elevations > 8,000 ft but I was unaware, until just before retiring for the evening, that TK did not have a sleeping bag with him on the trip. He had one in Charlottesville but, in the mad dash of the final pack where 2-3 boxes would not fit, one of the boxes containing his sleeping bag was left behind to be shipped later to Portland via FedEx. I offered him an extra pair of thermal long john’s and a spare ski hat that I had brought along, but he stoically refused. We share a stubborn streak, so I completely understood, yet I was concerned for his well being, especially given his continuing bout with the cold virus.

Author: The Captain

I am a scientist and entrepreneur who enjoys music, cooking and craft beers.

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