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Dirty dogs and the Great Plains July 29th of the third year

Oh Pizza Hut, you run a mighty, mighty buffet. But just a word of warning: beware the hungry biker walking in with a mostly empty pannier.

Today is July 25th. I haven't showered in since I left Oregon. For 18 days, all I have done is bicycle, sweat and sleep in the same nasty sleeping bag I did the night before. It smells lovely. There are little circles on my calves where I used some water and a cue tip to wipe away the grime. Yup, I'm still white. Last night I accidentally marched through about eight inches of mud to find somewhere to sleep and now my bike is caked in mud. I almost had to abandon my shoes just to escape the muck. It's a good time.

As I'm sitting in front of the library and eating from a giant bag of old pizza and bread sticks, a man walks by lugging his bicycle and its flat tire. "You wouldn't happen to have a patch kit with you?" he inquires. "Sure do. I've got all sorts of goodies," I reply. The tires on this guy's bike are completely rotten -- this bike had already been thrown away by someone else and Daniel found it for himself. And so, as these things go, I happily oblige to help him fix the flat so he can be on his way... until he runs over something else. Waiting for the glue to dry on the patch, Daniel points across the street to the police station. "I've been in and out of that place more times than I can count." -- "Oh yea?" -- "Yup, last time was a DUI... that's why I've got this dang bike." Good. One less fool to dodge. Daniel adds, "I had to share a cell with these two young punks, much younger than us," he pauses and looks up at me and continues, "and I say 'us' because I figure we're about the same age." I give an inquisitive eyebrow. One of us must look like trash because to me, Daniel appears to be about 40 and I'm fifteen years younger. He says, "you know, I had a birthday last week and I couldn't remember how old I was!" -- "Eh who cares, it's just a number." -- "I'm either 43 or 44, I think I'm 44!" Lovely. I win the ugly prize.

With an opened bag of sunflower seeds clipped to the map holder, we venture on into the familiar no-man's land. To anyone who might have heard that the planet is overpopulated, I advise trekking across this continent to have a look for yourself. There are miles and miles of absolutely nothing all over this country, and even when you find a town with some life, it's only about 500 people. We've got plenty of room.

The road I travel hugs a vertical wall of rock to my right and just off the left side is a cliff falling straight down to a wide river. On the other side of this river, mountain rises directly out of water and towards the heavens. Occasionally I stop for a drink and take my time to resume the ride. I'll walk across the street, look around, embrace the breeze, watch the sun pass behind clouds and listen to the echo of my own footsteps amidst the valley. "HELLO!!" My voice bounces around the landscape. Nobody is out here. "MONKEYS!!" I shout anything that comes to mind. It doesn't matter. If I didn't know better, I could easily believe that I'm the only one walking the planet. It's a shame I have places to be or I might stay here all day.

And so, like so many memories lost to the mercy of tomorrow's deju vu, I leave the moment and must press on. Maybe I'll remember it some day or maybe it's gone forever, never to be relived. I have no control and the day continues on with or without me. When night falls, it's into the woods and up with the tent. In the morning, like so many times before, I'll pack it up and hike for the road. Looking back on my trail, I think to myself, "how many times have I done this and how many times can I actually remember it?" It's got to be about 200 but I can't recall more than about ten times I've made this hike. The repetitive act of packing up camp and finding the road each morning is recorded in my mind as a combined blur of memory. Unless there's something out of the ordinary, rarely can I recall one event from another. You know how this is. Wake up, take a shower, shave, brush your teeth, get dressed, hop in the car and go -- not really something to remember. And if the whole day isn't worth remembering, then maybe it just slips by. Too many of these days doing too much of the same thing over and over and over, and very quickly you'll be an old man with only memories of being a young boy. "Who is that man in the mirror and how did he get here?"

Well, well, well... what do you know. After cycling through Glacier National Park, the mountains finally come to and end and the land levels out. And just as predicted, the wind is promptly blowing directly against me. We wouldn't want this to be reasonable, now would we? So much for being "swept right along by the prevailing winds" as everyone has told me. No, that's not quite the case. While there are no tornadoes falling from dark skies or hovering cows, there is all this luscious, wheaty grass bent over and pointing due west. And yes, I yell at it. "EAST!! YOU'RE SUPPOSED TO POINT EAST, DAMNIT!" They never listen. So, it's up to me to solve this problem. Just shut your eyes and keeping biking. With the wind blowing against your face and the strain in your legs, you'd swear you were flying.

I finally understand what was meant by "the great plains" in my 4th grade text books. They're great and they're plain. As my home-on-wheels rolls through endless fields, the wind finally calms down and I can appreciate a leisurely ride for a while. It's the land of buffalo, power lines, puffy clouds, golden wheat, blue skies and train tracks for as far as the eye can see. Every twenty minutes another train is passing me just parallel to the road and a few blow their whistles to say hello. I try to race a couple just for kicks but only end up tired and in the same scenery I just departed from. The land is flat and identical for hundreds of miles. It just goes, and goes, and goes, and goes, very much like the static background of an old cartoon. There's a lot of spacing-out and going into long rants with my voice recorder 'round here.

My new favorite spot to camp is between the railroad tracks and the farmer's wheat field. Nobody can see me and nobody would care even if they did. Welll, except for Ralph. Usually when a dog hunts down my bike, it's bad news because they usually want to bite off a bit, but not this time. This dog came out of nowhere. There hadn't been a house or farm for ten miles and coming prancing out of a wheat field, I made a friend. And just like the last time I made a furry friend at my tent, I welcomed him inside and he immediately jumped head-long into the mesh wall. Ah... I can't help but laugh as he lays there in a daze. Ralph had a collar but no tags and seemed to take a liking to me, so he spent the night curled up against my tent with no intentions to go. Check out the video:

Click PLAY to watch the video

When morning came, the dog remained. As I packed up and walked to the road, he followed. Ralph had nowhere to go but wherever I was headed. I couldn't just leave him at the mercy of all those trains, so I got on the phone and called every animal shelter, police station and dog pound I could find. But no such luck - they're all closed or too far from my location to come by. Great. Now what? Ralph is sitting in the shade of my panniers on the road's shoulder. I can't carry this dog and it certainly can't follow me in this heat for 20 miles to the next town. I sat there looking at him for a long while trying to figure out a solution but had nothing to offer. I could do nothing. I had to hit the road.

As soon as I begin to pedal, the dog is on my tail in hot pursuit. I speed up in hopes that he'll give up and go elsewhere, but even when he's a small speck in my rear-view mirror, I can still see that he's giving it all he's got. It's a horrible feeling of abandonment and I can't do anything about it. Just as I'm about to kick it into high gear and cut ties, a black Grand Am pulls onto the shoulder in front of me. I come to a stop and out pops an old man in a cowboy hat with a cast on his right arm. "Is that your dog?" he asks. "No, but he's been following me for a while now." The man walks towards me and the bike. "Because, we could sure use a dog if you could pick him up and put him in the trunk for us. I just broke my arm yesterday." -- "Uhh, sure, I can do that." I add, "I called all the animal shelters and couldn't get a hold of anybody who could help." Ralph joins the powwow as he finishes his jog. The old man responds, "Oh, we'll find out where he belongs, we only have a little ways to go. He'll be alright".

So, I picked up the little beagle and plopped him in the trunk. The car pulled back onto the road, made a U-turn and that was the end of Ralph. Whether the man and his wife planned on having him as a pet or having him for dinner, I'll guess I'll never know.

Meet Ralph, my new buddy.

My second day on the great plains was the reward for which I've been waiting. No more mountains and no more headwinds. As I removed the last pannier and placed it onto my bike, the wind picked up my tent and sent it rolling towards Minneapolis. I could only laugh. "This is going to be good." I wrangled my home back onto the bike and when I got onto the road, I couldn't pedal fast enough. It was a beautiful thing -- I was being pushed up hills without having to power the machine. Taking notice of the wheat waving in the wind and crinkling as each stalk hit each one another, I suddenly wanted to dive into it like a big, fluffy ball pit of unprocessed cheerios and merrily chow down. You know you would have, too:

Click PLAY to watch the video.

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