Waking from the deep sleep of a hotel room, shades drawn.
Time zone confusion. Coffee in the lobby, a shower of Raisin Bran from the dispenser. Cold milk. Everything Styrofoam.
A hot parking lot. Packing up. Sweating already. Sunscreen and more sunscreen.
Twenty miles, headwind as blessing, Sutherland and the picnic tables in the shade.
A perfectly ripe nectarine. The Lincoln Highway straight as the proverbial arrow.
Pioneer nostalgia. Trains to our right. A feeling of few and far between.
How the headset lets me hear her breathe. How we scrolled back over our evening.
Another water tower, beckoning. The last two miles of pedaling. The town sign.
A population I can wrap my mind around. Stef waiting for us downtown.
A spin around the block. Mary’s libraries, then Mary and TR and lunch at the ranch.
Hugs in the driveway. Backing in. Her laugh. His smile. “My moral support,” she said. 52 years of marriage. Sliced cucumbers. Pink lemonade. Potato salad with sprinkles of paprika.
Laundry, then a ride into North Platte. From travelers to tourists. The view from the Golden Spike. Men with binoculars in their laps. Trains as metaphors. Cowboys. Showmen. Searching for Buffalo Bill. A cob house. A sod house. An ice house. Rows of saddles in the barn.
The drive back. A nap I didn’t expect. Gratitude for air conditioning. Getting ready.
Mary and her reading quotes. A fistful of Pringles, a clutch of cherries, another glass of water. Kindness, kindness, kindness.
The parking lot, filling. Impromptu microphones. Filling in the backstory. Poems about old cowboys, expectations, and summer vacation. Chocolate chip cookies. Another glass of water. The evening sweet and seamless and full of celebration.
Tomorrow, TR’s pancakes. Moving eastward, in the heart of things.
Amy says . . .
I could tell you about the headwind today, the headwind that was so strong it felt like our wheels were spinning in quick-dry cement. I could tell you about the horsefly that stung my hip when we stopped just outside of Sutherland, NE for a sip of water. I could tell you about the heat from the pavement, which made the bottoms of my feet feel like they were resting too close to a campfire.
Or I could tell you about Mary.
I could tell you about the way she greeted us with a hug, just like I knew she would. I could tell you about her husband, TR, her “moral support,” and his cowboy hat and his dog, Levi, who follows him everywhere he goes. I could tell you that Mary and TR are high school sweethearts, married for 52 years. I could tell you about the cucumber salad and the frozen bananas and strawberries sliced into squares. I could tell you about the ride out to the Golden Spike Tower, overlooking the world’s largest railroad yard with 315 miles of track servicing a mind-boggling 150 trains a day. I could tell you how small the trains look from 8 stories high.
I could tell you the stories we heard about the good people of North Platte and surrounding Nebraska towns who came to the train station from 1941 - 1946 every single day to greet soldiers with home made cakes and egg salad sandwiches and cups of coffee - in 5 years over 6 million servicemen and women were served, despite rationing and the personal hardships these Nebraskans faced themselves. I could tell you how they gave those men and women who were traveling so far from home a small touch of kindness, ten minutes of love like the touch of a mother or a father. How those who survived remembered that ten minutes for the rest of their lives.
I could tell you how it felt like Mary and TR were doing us the same favor, giving us their time, their food, their washer and dryer, a tour of Buffalo Bill’s ranch, such kindness bestowed upon us, strangers who are traveling so far from home. I could tell you how TR took me out to meet his animals this afternoon, the sheep and goats, a 2-week-old foal I dubbed, Handsome, and the twin mules, Amos and Andy, who had the gentlest eyes. I asked TR why he liked mules better than horses and he told me that a lot of people don’t like to work with mules because they’re difficult and ornery, but he loves mules best because he understands them. I believe him. I could tell you how I think TR and Mary know exactly how good it feels to be understood. They know what a gift it is to be well-cared for. I know we’ll remember this ten hours for the rest of our lives.