Day 50 - Morning
Cold Night + Trains
It was my coldest night on the road. Not debilitatingly or dangerously cold, but keep waking up and putting on more clothes cold. I had become so used to hot and warm nights that the idea a night could be cold, did not cross my mind. I am in the high desert now, not the mountains, not the plains, certainly not the East.
Trains rumbled through during the night. Each blared it's horn. Trains traveling East carried full cargo containers. Trains heading West carried empties. They say you get used to trains in the night. I don't know, I wasn't there long enough.
I broke camp at dawn and followed directions given me by the camp owner's son. Instead of taking the highway north-northeast up to Route 2, I was to cross the tracks and look for a sign saying, "Coffee Pot Road" then follow it. It was paved and would save me 20 miles of driving. He had taken the time to print a map out from his computer, then mark it in my presence. I told him that's what I would do. Would Louis and Clark do any less?
The road was well marked and easy to find. I turned on to it and immediately left behind what little remnants of civilization existed in Harrington. This was pure wheat country. The land existed solely for the purpose of growing wheat. A road ran through it so farm machinery could plant and harvest. I was a guest, cryogenically sterilized the night before, allowed to move through and observe, but not stop.
There was no heat in the morning light. I had on all my cold weather gear including a balaclava. My shadow, crisp and dark, stretched far out in front of me as I traveled west. There was no end to Coffee Pot Road. It would go for miles in one direction then make a ninety-degree turn. Then it would turn back. It was easy to know my heading by the sun. However, I expected to be going predominately north, not west. That’s what the provided map told me.
I rolled on alone in the golden blanket of fields. One deer crossed the road and then bounded through the deep wheat. It’s body nearly the same color as the wheat. The mornings only movement save for my own.
I knew instinctively I was not on the road suggested the night before. I was on Coffee Pot Road, there were small street signs at infrequent crossings with dirt roads, but it was not the road that headed north and saved some miles. This road was heading west and at one point south. It would not run into Route 2. It did not matter. Although I knew I was a little lost, I also knew I could not go too far astray. I would run into a different road, a paved road with a name or a number that indicated a major avenue to the north and south.
In time that’s exactly what happened. I came to a T-intersection with Highway 21. I turned right, north, knowing it would eventually lead me to the town of Wilbur.
Despite the golden wheat, I knew I was in the Scablands. There are two landscapes here, domesticated golden wheat fields and scraped clean primeval bedrock. The contrast could not be more extreme. The land was scrapped clean in floods 10-15,000 years ago, but some of the soil pooled in places capable of growing grass. Humans exploited those grasses, refining what grew best there and today we have endless wheat.
I did not stop to photograph these landscapes for two reasons. I was freezing cold and I did not have the perspective. It is impossible to photograph the geological paradox of this area from ground level. You need height and a panoramic lens. Moving through the land, hour after hour, you come to know and appreciate it, but you can’t capture it.
And I was cold. My feet were blocks of ice and my hands numb claws. I had another 25-30 miles before the town of Wilbur.