The hundredth meridian west
Great billowing, grey canvas drapes stretch out above us in all directions, the biggest ‘shall I bring a jacket?’ sky I have ever seen. The stubbly Iowa fields turn flat and and black, the little towns tower with huge, rusting agricultural equipment we cannot name and the rain begins in a cheap drizzle. This is Nebraska. Men with big bellies nudging the denim of their overalls wish us good morning and safe journey when we stop. The people here are kind, generous with their conversation and they love a foreign visitor in town.
Go awn then, tell me where that license plate is from? Where you folks headin’?
We are asked at each stop. And still the weather does not let up. Still our ears ring at the end of each day as we guiltily check into another motel and leap into the shower to stand until we turn delicate shades of crimson. We reach for our bottle of cheap bourbon when we get out, still chilly in the liver.
We stop in a small, slightly forgotten looking town because I am starting to shudder and I am concerned that I may die there on the back, head lolling by the panniers and lips blue, unless I am immediately given soup and tea and a cake. We circle the empty streets admiring the red brick, frontier type buildings and wonder if we have stumbled upon the end of the world. The place is called Friend…but where are our friends?
We find them murmuring over cups of coffee at Jo-Leigh’s Java Jitters, where the friendly proprietor, Vickie and customers immediately note our duck egg appearances and clawed hands and solemly tell us that this weather is out of character completely! I mean May?! Normally its not like this oh no. We are given a cup of ambrosial soup, homemade blueberry cake and best of all, English breakfast tea for confusingly little money. I eat the soup so fast I am left scratching diligently at the bottom of the cup for my dignity. I am hoping my English accent works its magic in making people here assume we are a better class of people than we are. To ensure this, we purchase an antique set of salt shakers with the mysterious ‘Fair 1913’ etched on the sides for $3 while Jamie loudly claims we must have salt and pepper shakers for our hike. To be without would be indecorous!
We leave having convinced everybody that we are English aristocracy and clutching a recipe for sausage gravy kindly bestowed on us by Vickie who I had immediately recognise as someone who thinks a good gravy and a well made biscuit is something important. The bike hoiks us away from the warmth and squelches its way towards the low howl of the wind singing through the mystery agricultural towers of little Minden. I am thrilled. Intensely pleased. Not only is there are a PIONEER VILLAGE TO VISIT but also the motel that serves the museum is enthusiastically low priced and looks like the Overlook Hotel from The Shining inside. We hurry our bags in to our room, which has a bath that looks like the one the dead old lady slithers out of when Jack Nicolson, against everybody’s better judgement, unlocks room 237 and skip across the puddled carpark to Harold Warp’s Pioneer Village. The place is so wonderful and huge and crammed with stuff we have to go back in the morning and pay twice. There are warehouses full of old cars, barns full of tractors, aeroplanes, boats and snowmobiles. There are lamps, dolls with funny faces, steroscopes, corridors and corridors of rooms dressed to suit a different decades and even a church and a school house. The ceiling drips where rain is pooling on the roof and we are amongst only 4 or 5 visitors leaving damp footprints in the silent rooms, turning on the lights as we go and switching them quietly off again as we depart. At one end end of one of the countless warehouses, we find a working broom shop which I admire dreamily and take excruciatingly dull photographs of. The resident broom maker turns up and, me creepily hanging on to his every bristly word, tells us that having reached Mindas, we have reached the hundredth meridian west of Greenwich, a fact of which I am rather proud.
In the morning as we sadly take our leave, a train rolls past us heaving miles of freight behind it and we follow it some 40 miles before overtaking it and spotting tank after tank lined up at the front heading for some military hot spot god knows where. We peel away from it as the fields begin to fill with beautiful, stubby ranks of of green wheat and enormous grasslands open up in front of us. Vast ranks of soaring wind turbines snip silently at the hanging curtain of low cloud, mile after mile after mile. We pull to a stop when I notice huge, snaggled bunches of tumbleweed caught in the fences and strolling across the road in front of us. I can barely contain myself and hop inelegantly off the bike to pick a bunch up from a dip in the grass. Experimentally I throw it across the road and start to laugh as it John Waynes fretfully to the otherside. We throw more. Jamie chases them into the silver blonde grasses that jumble in the wind beside us and stretch out to the edges of the universe. The place looks as though someone picked up the Pennines at all four corners and pulled and pulled, pegging them straining around the edges leaving gentle hillocks and smooth edges. We stand and admire the horizon for a moment listening to the sound of the birds then I heap the bike with tumbleweed and take a photo while Jamie plays football with several tumbles behind me.
However, we are Colorado bound and tired and achy so we heave ourselves, gravy and cake weary back onto the bike and ride through the wind towards the Rocky Mountains. We discuss names and, having misunderstood the essence of one another’s conversation, settle on Robin as a fitting name for our bike.
For the bike??
Jamie asks, confused. He thinks we have simply agreed that Robin is a nice name, not that it is the name of the gaffer-taped humdinger below us. But it’s too late, despite briefly considering Valhalla, the name of a boat at the Pioneer Museum, the deed is done. Robin Rawhide! I shout grinning. My contribution to the naming of the bike has previously been disallowed, Jamie claiming it to be stupid but I slip the surname in and I think the bike must like it. She purrs along keenly as we cross the state line to Colorado and we cheer silently and wave to a cow who watches us with interest as we pass. Robin Rawhide is rollin rollin rollin, through rain and wind and weather, hell-bent for leather Raaaawwwwhiiiiiiiiiiideeeeee!
Friendly Sausage Gravy from Friend
Brown 1lb of sausage meat, add enough flour to soak up the fat. If the sausage meat is very lean, add lard or butter. After you have added the flour, the sausage meat will look like a gummy paste. At this point, add enough whole milk to cover the sausage. Stir continuously over a high heat until it thickens to the consistency of macaroni cheese sauce. Add more milk if necessary or stir in a little corn starch if it is too watery. Add ground pepper or hot sauce to taste.
The women in the cafe bemoaned their husbands ruining everything with hot sauce so go easy there….