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“A poem of the right shape will hold a thousand truths. But it doesn’t say any of them.” ~Ursula K. Le Guin (A quote in memory of my friend the exquisite poet Susan Laughter Meyers, who I just learned died suddenly last week.) We took our time leaving Grave Spring. Made more cowboy coffee, had breakfast, took some pictures, checked the trailer brakes (and readjusted them) then headed out. We had seen The Loud Family leave by way of the route we planned and since they were pulling two huge trailers, we assumed that the road would be easier in that direction than it had been coming in. Boy, was that assumption ever wrong. We had to go between 5 and 10 miles per hour because the dirt road out was uneven, rocky, washed out, and rutted. The trailer held up like a champ but it took three hours to go about 25 miles. At one point, I got out and walked beside the Jeep because it was so frustrating. (And in case you were wondering, my current meditation pack is on Restlessness, so yes, I am probably on the right pack. One of the ideas I keep returning to is that the spaciousness of the mind is so vast that we can’t comprehend it, so we need to let go the idea that a restless mind is something to fight. We all have restless minds. It’s the human condition. Learning to accept the restlessness and refocus when it interferes, that is the real goal.) When we reached Ten Sleep, Wyoming—so named by the Native tribes that marked it as halfway (Ten Sleeps) between Casper and their summer hunting grounds—we got gas (Yes! We made it on the gas we had.) and there discovered that somewhere along the the 4-wheel-drive road, the electrical connector for the trailer had gotten ripped out and then caught on something else and ripped off the end and then when we reached hardtop, dragged along the highway. It looked like it had been through a shredder and we knew that needed addressing immediately, so instead of heading to Medicine Lodge as we had intended, we searched for a repair place and found The Tractor Guys in Worland, Wyoming. Like everyone else we have pulled in and begged to assess our issues, they were extremely willing, generous, and helpful. They let us leave the trailer and we went for lunch with just the Jeep. We found a Mexican restaurant that was neither very Mexican, nor much of a restaurant and ate, then returned to the shop. I sat in the car and tried for more...

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“I’m dirty, sunburned, dried out, smelly, sweaty, covered in pine tree pollen, and it’s better than I’ve felt in a long time.” ~Len, sitting by the fire at Grave Spring Campsite. For breakfast we enjoyed a pour-over made with Arbuckle’s Ariosa Coffee, apparently a revival of the coffee brand that settled the west and a favorite of cowboys in the 1880s (or, you know, we bought into the tourist ruse that it was cowboy coffee and paid three dollars for a small packet—ka-ching!). The sample pack came from Lou Taubert’s Western Wear shop in Casper where Len also found a pair of jeans in a style that he’s been searching for for ages. As I mentioned yesterday, this Grave Spring campsite proved so fine (and the drive in here so rough) we decided to stay another day rather than drive to Doyle Creek, another Bureau of Land Management (BLM*) site that had been on our schedule. This is the smart part of travel—when you can be flexible enough to stay at a primo spot (especially when they’re first-come-first-serve) and enjoy it to the fullest rather than just pick and move because you thought six months ago that would be the right decision. So we settled in for the day and planned a hike. Much to our unbounded joy, the Loud Family began to pack up as if to leave, making our decision to stay another night even sweeter. Then they proceeded to take another loud ATV ride, shoot off a shotgun several times, run a chainsaw, and start up a very loud gas generator and run it for about 45 minutes. Our joy diminished. There are definitely two philosophies to camping (and any number of shades in between), but the extremes run something like this. The Loud Family Philosophy: Conquer the campsite! Make it as much like home as possible. Bring all the gadgets and amenities you can carry, including a TV and radio, a generator, a 22-gauge shotgun, and a chainsaw. Bring a fifty-gallon drum of water lashed to the back of your camper. Occupy every inch of space allotted to you. Erect structures and spread out to fill them. Bring multiple vehicles, if possible, especially an ATV so you can roar around the countryside many times a day. Burn everything in the fire pit, even things that do not burn like plastic bottles, tin cans, and a horrifying plastic stand-alone sticky fly-catcher thing. The Pratt-Akers Family Philosophy: Ease into your campsite quietly. Create as little impact as possible as you back in, unlock your doors, and raise the lid on the galley (setup complete!). Enjoy the views...

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“It’s not an adventure until something goes wrong.” Yvon Chouinard I think I forgot to mention that last night was a hotel stay—with actual, real Internet. We got caught up on grooming, washed clothes, I finished several blog posts and scheduled them to publish since I knew we’d be back out of Internet range in the Bighorns for another couple days. The hotel was nice, but when I went out to the trailer to get something I’d forgotten I felt like I wanted to sleep there, instead. Very strange. Plus, it’s tough to break the rhythm of where you keep things and how you access them. You have to remember to grab everything you’ll need for the hotel from the trailer. I was also wishing I had brought in my pillow, but was too lazy at bedtime to go back out and get it. We left the hotel at 10am, after Len futzed with the trailer brakes more to address some additional squeaking. (It appears to have worked!) We stayed in Casper for breakfast, gas, groceries, ice, and a fishing license for Len. The speed limit in most of Wyoming is 80mph. Len has gotten used to this new law, very quickly. When we hit an area that was 55mph, he said (in mock indignance), “Hey! What is this? A school zone??” Out of Casper, we took Route 20/26 to Arminto Road, then Buffalo Creek Road—a gravel, rough, dusty, washboard byway. At one of the turns, we encountered a mom and three kids with a lemonade stand. I make it a policy to never pass a lemonade stand if I’m not in a hurry, so we stopped, drank, and tipped well. It was delicious. And this was also roughly when we realized we’d forgotten to fill the other Rotopax with fuel. Most ranchers have fuel on their property, but the actual gas stations are pretty few and far between out here. We did some quick calculations and decided we were probably good to get in and back out. On the road, we met two nice Wyoming gentlemen (who apparently stop to chat whenever they meet another car on a lonely road). The first one said (by way of greeting), “You’re on an adventure!” and the second one (who stopped to wait for us a good quarter of a mile from where we were) asked, “Is this the road to Chicago?” Len answered, “Just about 3,000 miles that-a-way.” In other words, we fit right in. Have I mentioned just how much I love the Cowboy State? It’s wide, wild, and expansive. As Georgia O’Keefe said about New Mexico, “It’s a...

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“Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.” ~Confucius We Left the Red Desert Rose Campground at 8am and drove into Rawlins, back to the Huckleberry Café for breakfast where we each got a Cowboy Bowl (hash browns, sausage, egg, cheese, and gravy) and some coffee. We took Route 220 towards Casper and saw TONS of pronghorn antelope in the vast grasslands that extend as far as the eye can see along Route 220. At first, it was, “Wow! Look! A pronghorn!” But by the end of the drive we’d seen so many it was more like, “Oh. Huh. Another six pronghorn. (Yawn.)” How quickly we get used to glorious sights like the fine fellow Len captured posing in the grass, majestic mountains in the background. We visited the Trail Museum in Casper which is wonderfully interactive (a great spot to bring kids). The displays explained in-depth about four of the major westward trails: The Oregon Trail, The Pony Express Trail, The California (Gold Rush) Trail, and the Mormon Trail. I hadn’t realized that so many Mormons made the trip to Salt Lake City pulling handcarts rather than in covered wagons relying on beasts of burden like oxen, horses, or mules. That seems crazy to consider, but there were “handcart companies” that touted it as freedom from the worries of tending livestock and as a faster way to get west. The companies supplied food and water and the individual families pulled only what belongings they wanted to bring. Ironically, many ended up tossing the belongings that had seemed so essential and ended up pulling sick or dying loved ones in the carts instead (with so many people on the trail, dysentery was a big problem and could kill in as little as 24 hours). Two ill-fated handcart parties left Missouri late (in August) and encountered horrible snowstorms mid-October; many of their members froze to death. Brigham Young sent out a search party to help guide them in but they couldn’t offer assistance until the pioneers walked to Devil’s Pass where a supply wagon had extra food. In the history of the Latter Day Saints, these people who died were raised up as martyrs to the cause, instead of gullible pioneers (hoodwinked by profiteering guides) who foolishly left too late in the season, perhaps trusting that God would look after them on their journey. I’ve always had a problem with people of faith that give over entire control of every aspect, every decision. I understand there are times when that is the correct impulse—let go and let God—we can’t control everything, after all, but it also seems...

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“Forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair.” ~Khalil Gibran I woke with a wicked migraine. Perhaps from my barely suppressed freakout of the night before, perhaps from not drinking enough to stay hydrated in this furnace-wind, perhaps from the cottonwood fluff blowing everywhere, perhaps the long hours in the vehicle without exercise or even stretching, perhaps just because it was time for another one. I never know what exactly brings them on, and they are few and far between enough to not want to seek treatment, which I know from true sufferers is often ineffectual anyway. I took an over-the-counter remedy, drank some coffee, did a little public yoga (which if you know me, know I have to need it pretty bad to do it in a public place) broke camp, and hit the road. I slept as Len drove and I only awoke occasionally as he dodged the prairie dogs that kept popping up everywhere—crossing the road, standing on the side of the road, standing IN the road. It was like a game of whack-a-mole, except with prairie dogs … and a Jeep going 65mph … and you’re actually trying to avoid them, not hit them. Okay, not really like whack-a-mole at all except for the frequent heads popping up left and right. By the time I had slept my way to Rawlins I was feeling better so we parked and poked around the town (I was dying to walk and stretch my legs). We checked out the Tourist Information Office which was up a narrow staircase accessed through a music store (with no clerk in sight) and the person manning the office was apparently out for lunch, so we grabbed some brochures and walked to the Historic Wyoming Frontier Prison which offered tours. Its history went back far enough that it had housed some honest-to-goodness Wild West rascals but it also went forward enough to have been in existence into the early 1980s. Some pretty harsh penalties were enacted against prisoners and the gas chamber was a little more real-life grisly than I cared to photograph. (Apparently some people like to sit in the chair and get their photograph taken—the actual chair, mind you, that some eleven prisoners were gassed to death while sitting in. No thanks.) Still, I was glad to have seen it and been reminded that plenty of people are living their lives incarcerated—out of sight of “civilized” society, but very much there and very human. We tried to eat at a small Thai restaurant in the town, but got there...

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“The real question is not whether life exists after death. The real question is whether you are alive before death.” ~Osho Two weeks. Holy cow. We’re halfway done. How can that be? Sleeping was tough last night. The storm never came through (skirted all around us) and the near-storm just left everything more still and hot than it had been before. Being on black asphalt didn’t help either, I’m sure. We rolled through Dinosaur, Utah on our way to Dinosaur National Park and saw a couple of signs that tickled me, including one for the town burial plot, Dinosaur Cemetery, and a sign on a local church advertising Dinosaur Bible Study. There was also a Bedrock Depot in town, which I’m sure employed a Barney and a Fred. Lots of dinosaur statues in the town, including a giant, fiberglass pink one with long black eyelashes. Dinosaur National Monument and the Quarry Exhibit Hall was amazing. It’s an especially rich vein of dino-bones from an ancient lake that (it’s believed) supported dinosaurs 149 million years ago, then dried up leaving the weakened ones vulnerable to carnivores. The rains returned, re-filled the lake, and the bones washed into a logjam that petrified over time. So there are lots of articulated skeleton sections, lots of variety, and lots of really big specimens.   They’ve hauled out major skeletons that have been sent all over the world, and the exhibit hall was built right onto the side of a wall of bones so you can see them as they were deposited and as they have been painstakingly excavated over the years. Lots of stegosaurus, including the smallest skeleton ever found, which did not have the bony back plates, leading paleontologists to believe that perhaps they grew over time and weren’t born with them. Have I mentioned that I love dinosaurs? I’m like a six-year-old boy, giddy in their presence. We passed through Ashley National Forest (Altitude 8,204 feet) and the weather changed from 100 degrees to 60 degrees and rain. Our first real rain while driving. Hard to believe we’ve gone two weeks without hitting rain. Except my nose believes it. Another little-known fact about arid climates: they are HELL on the nasal passages of spoiled easterners with normal humidity. I’ve taken to carefully snorting water just so I can blow my nose and actually make something happen. And yes, before you ask, I DID bring my neti pot, but I challenge you to try and find a spot in a public campsite/public restroom where you feel comfortable pouring warm water into one nostril and out the other using a very anatomically-shaped spout....

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