Where is my tailwind?: Guernsey State Park to Torrington
Wednesday July 10, 2013, 47 miles (75 km) – Total so far: 2,797 miles (4,501 km)
My watch alarm goes off. Ugh. I ignore it.
Then the little voice that inhabits my head says, “C’mon Em, GET UP. You know it’s going to be hot today.”
I respond, “It’s still dark. Just a little more sleep. Pleease.”
Little voice is having none of it, “C’mon Em, GET UP. You know you’re going to have a strengthening headwind all day. AND you’re going to stop for a few hours along the way. GET UP.”
Five minutes have elapsed. I open my eyes. And there, in the pre-dawn darkness, are the whites of little turtle eyes looking right at me. Verne is facing me with his goofy grin and his permanently half-raised arms. He’s ready to go.
I commence the morning pack-up. I’ve never been a morning person – 8.30 am is my preferred waking time. But I’ve been conditioned by over a month of 4.45-5.00 am starts. It has gotten easier over time.
Still, I’m pretty sure that difficulty in awakening is strongly correlated to both the steepness of your first hill for the day AND the immediacy of the climb. For example, I think Difficulty Awakening is positively correlated to Steepness (i.e. Difficulty Awakening increases as hill gradient increases). Conversely, Difficulty Awakening is negatively correlated to Immediacy of Climb (i.e. as distance to first climb increases, Difficulty Awakening decreases).
Oh, for goodness sake! Shut up, Little Nerd Voice! I’m a recovering academic. I no longer need to see the world in statistics.
“Oooh, but we could think about a mediating or a moderating relationship involving those variables.”
And so goes the inner dialogue as I pack up this morning. Once up the long hill out of the camping area, and down the hill to the main road, the sun is well into the sky, and the world is starting to awaken.
About 20 miles into the day, we turn off the main road to go see Fort Laramie. This is one of the most famous places in all of western history. Like many US military forts, it started its life as a trading post in the 1820s and 1830s. Once the westward emigration began, it also became a supply point for the travellers on the Trails. Then, as emigrant traffic increased and conflict with the Plains Indians increased, the US bought the post to establish a military presence and protect the Trails.
This fort played a huge role in the treaties with and military campaigns against the Plains Indians. It is a crucial location in Western American history of this period.
It was near here that the Horse Creek Treaty of 1851 was signed. This treaty saw the largest ever recorded gathering of Indians in the area – over 10,000 from different nations. The Plains Indians agreed not to harass emigrants in exchange for annuity goods and vast expanses of land. The treaty also divided up territories between Indian nations. Sadly, this treaty only lasted for two years before it was broken.
The Treaty of 1868 was also signed near here. This is the controversial treaty that ceded the Black Hills to the U.S. and signaled defeat of the Plains Indians. We’ve come across this several times on our tour. It is, to this day, considered an invalid contract by many Plains Indian Nations.
The fort was finally abandoned in 1890 after the Indian wars had subsided. Duties, responsibilities and patrols associated with this post were transferred to Fort Robinson in Nebraska – which we’ve already visited.
Today, finally, as I walk around the fort and look at the exhibits, the people come alive. When I was at Fort Robinson, it was the sad, sad story and the volume of the history that spoke to me. I was overwhelmed with the plot lines and the time lines. Even as I walked past all the photos of Indian Nation leaders in the history museum at Ft Robinson, the pieces of the story, and their connection to the present day, were the things that played in my head and weighed on my emotions.
But today, it is finally, the individual people. Maybe it’s because I’ve seen so much more of the land and seen so much more of the history in the past 6 weeks that it all comes together in my head now. As I walk around the fort buildings, I can see the soldiers. I can see the young and middle-aged men in blue coats out here in the ‘frontier’. I can see them marching on the parade ground. I can see the Sioux or the Cheyenne emerging from their tipis down by the river.
But what really brings the people to me are all of the photos on the wall of the little theatre room. The photos are not highlighted, they are not a main feature. They are just hung all lop-sided along the walls of a dim room that runs the overview presentation on demand. You have to climb over chairs, or walk in and out of each row to see the photos. But, to me, they are the most important things on display here. You can see the individuals who signed the treaties. You can see the white men sitting on chairs, the Indian leaders wrapped in robes and sitting on the ground. You can see the expression on each man’s face.
You can feel the gravity of history. Right here. It no longer feels like a movie script or a story that could just as easily be in the fiction section as the non-fiction section. This is our history. These are the people who fought for their land. These are the people who carried out the U.S. Government’s demands.
These photographs make this history real to me. After I study the photos for awhile, the fort’s context in the landscape of rolling, treeless hills and river flats, feels more real. It is not someplace where something happened long ago. It is a closed military installation – one that has only been closed for a bit less than 125 years – where the future of one entire culture was dismantled and the future of another entire culture guaranteed.
The looks captured on the faces in those photographs will stick with me for a long time to come. It’s like putting the name to a face of a distant relative at a family reunion. In this case, it is just putting names AND faces to a pivotal point in history.
Back on the road and into the headwind. There is not a whole lot to inspire words in this landscape for me. At times we are in the river valley with the railroad line close by, crops or pasture bordering the river, and river bluffs lining the south side of the valley in the distance. Other times we ride up out of the valley and away from the river for awhile.
I’m just grunting into the headwind, but there are two bright points to the afternoon: 1) the ladies at the gas station in Lingle, a pretty dead little farm town, are super-friendly and spontaneously offer me a huge cup of ice for free, “so you can add it to your soft drink as you ride”; and, 2) the pesky red-winged blackbirds stand no chance against the wind. They take off from fence posts to chase me but are immediately flung back and away by the wind. Hehehehehehe.
Torrington is another town you are from. It’s not a town you move to. Two big highways cross here, and this provides some life. Otherwise, it’s a pretty sad place of dirt, grit, weeds and tired streetscapes. It is hot here in summer; frigid in winter. It is always windy. Or so a friendly local tells me as I eat bananas on a street corner downtown. He volunteers at the info centre (which I never saw) and suggests I do not camp at the city park tonight because they’ve been ‘having… some… er… big troubles there… lately’. He won’t elaborate; I don’t bother prying. There are huge thunderheads to the west that I’ve been trying to out-run and a severe thunderstorm watch, so I was considering a cheap motel anyway. Sold.