I awoke as an extra in a B movie set at the Axe Murder Inn. I edged open my door to check the ‘pool. It didn’t have a body in it. Another azure Midwest sky, much bigger than we get in Britain. (Austerity I expect.) No FBI SWAT teams in the car park, although I’ve seen its like on any number of cop shows. Deciding that any corpses around the dumpster area can wait I head for the restaurant feeling peckish.
Well, whaddya know? The buffet is inhabited by local food enthusiasts. I settle for a bagel like a life buoy ring from an ocean liner and a banana that would seat a dozen Club 18-30 punters.
Replete I settle the bill – have definitely seen her in a zombie flick – and slip away. Downtown Cheyenne is busy with workaday drivers who drift away as I head East on the I80: the Lincoln Highway. Not for long though as that heads into – whisper it – Nebraska. Instead I peel off south onto State Route 214 which sends me pleasingly over a cattle grid and almost immediately onto the set of the 1958 Hitchcock classic, North by North West. Specifically, that spectacular scene with the crop-duster.
Imagine my dismay to discover afterwards that I was fooled again by Hollywood.
Still, slavishly following the cut-out section of SW Nebraska meant that I got to traverse some proper down-home farm roads which were a joy on this bright, warm, still September day. Pausing outside the peaceful/apocalyptically dead hamlet of Grover, I took a moment to note the passing of “pavement” – by which our American cousins actually mean “tarmac.” I even made a gravel-tastic short film to record the event. In the context of my trip? A worthy visual piece. Otherwise? If you are an avid YouTube viewer you’ll spend two minutes wondering WTF? (Although @ 1.24 a large mammal has a brief walk on part, so stay sharp.)
The morning was spent on the back roads – Raymer, Stoneham, Snyder, Brush – before a cuppa in the grain-silos-and-a-street “City” of Akron.
Now in cattle country where the landmarks are vast industrial steer feed stations the roads are endless I pass by Otis, Yuma and “make” a right turn in Wray onto the 385 South (before I run into Nebraska again).
As Wray filled my mirrors I passed a conspicuously parked grey car which I couldn’t help noticing span round and raced after me. As the penny dropped it lit up like a blue and red Christmas tree so I pulled over. Dear reader, I considered doing a runner, albeit for a nanosecond. (And I do mean runner.)
The arm of the law may be long, but this officer was as dumpy as a serial doughnut connoisseur. (So much so that I fancied my chances in a Will Ferrell homage foot race.)
Of course, I did no such thing as a) I was guilty, b) am respectful of Colorado’s finest and c) he had a gun.
I won’t recant the conversation in full as he let me off with a warning. But I did start if off in full Carry On mode: “Air hair lair office-ah” and shamelessly continued using phrases including “I’m so terribly sorry” and “dear me”. I might even have dropped in a “splendid!”
Of course I drove less hastily thereafter. Of course I did. Although the state line was a few scant miles south and pretty soon I was pegging it again wondering if his “juris-goddam-diction” expired at the border with Kansas.
At this point I’d made the classic mistake of forgetting how big continental North America is. It was only when I crossed a time zone and saw a sign saying “Kansas City 400” that I knew I was in for a long afternoon. Pausing at Hays/Colby/Russell to buy a Mom’n’Pop cheeseburger – where they also ran a butchers, I bought a random pack of bacon for my hosts – and yet another fuel stop it was only the I70 between me and my goal: Leavenworth, KS.
Jeezus, there’s a lot of Hallelujah FM in the Midwest. As the Kansas landscape drifted past, I amused myself by occasionally shouting at the radio: “Praise BE!” Then I paused for a comedy photo stop at Abilene, KS – an in-joke you’ll have to ask me about – and sang loudly to Divine Comedy songs.
Then I started to become aware that the weather was changing. To the north the sky seemed to be getting awfully cross. To the south it was as clear as a bell. As if t’were a forbearer of bad news as traffic suddenly stopped for a “wreck.” Time for the Dirk Gently Navigation Method. Following a chap in purposefully driven pickup truck I hustled off the Freeway and straight into an Army base guarded by men with red necks and big guns. Wide eyed, I sighed audibly as Mr Pickup veered off the military approach and onto the frontage road parallel to the highway. Momentarily we passed mangled metal that used to be a truck, several battered cars and all of the emergency services. (Sobering.) As the road turned to (now familiar) gravel I followed the pickup for about 10 minutes before wondering if he was going my way at all.
It was getting dark.
In his dust trail I could see approximately zilch. So it was with considerable relief that we emerged from a small valley at a freeway junction. “Praise BE!” He headed off north on a minor road, I joined the now spectacularly empty freeway to head east and nailed it.
The road into Kansas City passing Topeka was uneventful enough, but the sky!? The darkness brought a light show that elicited oohs, ahhs, and then HELLS BELLSs as the lightning made multiple ground strikes seemingly just outside the Jeep. (My word Midwest weather is BRUTAL when it wants to be. Although, weirdly, it stayed dry. I was thankful.)
Then, after a shade over 1,700 miles and 27 hours in the saddle I was “home.” Home being a house on Fort Leavenworth proudly occupied by the most British folk for thousands of miles.
So how does one celebrate such a momentous achievement?
By sitting down with your pals to have a cup of tea and several rounds of cheese on toast, that’s how.