Friday, September 05, 2008


Originally uploaded by rod lewis
August, 14, 2008
To Omaha, Nebraska Norfolk, Nebraska Oneill, Nebraska
399 miles (7,518)

As I sit down tonight to type the tale, at the tail of today, my mind is whirling. I’ve had no time or chance these past two days to catch up on my trip log, and so I’m two days behind, but with SO many thoughts,
So tonight, I have not only to type the tale of today, but finish my started tales of the past two days as well.
Today, I had planned nearly 550 miles to Omaha. Never mind that I also planned to visit Mount Rushmore and take my time through the Badlands. I got up fairly early, showered and broke camp and visited the all-you-can-eat pancake, and bottomless-cup-o-coffee deal. As I finished my coffee, a nasty, all-you-can-stand wind blew in dark clouds and harassed all the tents in the campground. Stakes were being pulled up, picnic tables cleared, and folks were scurrying about to batten down the hatches. I took it as a sign to mount the windhorse and get out of Dodge. I headed south to Mount Rushmore, less dressed than I should have been, but more dressed than was comfortable hiking around at the feet of the presidents.

I have to say that as I drove around the bend and got a glimpse of the carvings, I was less than impressed. This, I thought, was one of those rare things that are more impressive in photographs. Honestly, even after I arrived, parked and milled about the observation area, I kept thinking that it was less hulking and large than I’d thought it would be. I knew, intellectually, the dimensions, but visually, it just wasn’t happening. As I walked about the trail, I noticed some workers standing on top of Thomas Jefferson’s head, and soon they began to rappel down to his nose.

This was the perspective I needed. From that point on, the whole thing took on a new meaning. I’d have to say that my preceding itinerary had its affect on Mount Rushmore. The enormous, cliffs and rock faces that I’d ridden between, and under in the Big Horn forest had definitely eclipsed the size of the Black Hills. One should see Rushmore first, before riding from Cody to Sheridan along scenic, seasonal, route 14.

There was another factor eclipsing my experience of Rushmore though, and that was the juxtaposition of natural beauty and human accomplishment. I stood there and wondered at how someone could carve such incredible likeness from stone stories high. I wondered at the fact that most who worked on the project were merely laborers, hired by the artisan and told what to do and how to do it. That the ordinary finesse of bringing out the art in a hunk of stone was rendered by dynamite and pneumatic hammers powered by huge air compressors hundreds of yards away from the work being done. All this was wonder worth pondering.
Meanwhile, back at Yosemite and Yellowstone, rain, wind and rivers whittled formations in granite and earth. Wildfires burned away vegetation that had held topsoil in place and exposed the ground to those same elements. Nature formed its abstract patterns, structures and ever-changing landscapes. The hand of God rendered never before seen, or dreamed of wonders. Nature constantly awes us in its ex nihilo art, while humans merely imitate it.
In fact, as I gazed upon Mount Rushmore, all this took on two dimensions.
The first was that the “art” that was created here was a perfect illustration of man’s imitation of the creativity of the creator. God crafted humans, and in we are so completely bent on exact imitation. Here is art in which the likenesses of men are carved in stone, hundreds of times larger-than-life. Also, the likenesses carved there are not really the point, but are to commemorate human accomplishment. The irony in that moment was profound, though I cannot properly verbalize my thoughts.
Yes, Rushmore is really cool. Yosemite,Yellowstone, and all the paths to get there -breathtaking. In the commonplace of nature, we forget that it, in its inception is abstract, innovative and so creatively created.
But, I digress…

After I visited Rushmore, I made my way to East route 44 to take the scenic route through the badlands, and to make an appearance at the National Park. This, my friends, despite the chill, and winds, I’d experienced in the Black Hills, and the threatening storm clouds that remained above the desolate landscape, was a string of magic motorcycle miles. Back here, in no-man’s-land, the airl was calm, the windhorse purred, and the rolling, gently winding landscaped smiled on me as I barreled through. I rode at 75 mph, and seemed to sit still while I felt the silence and stillness of the badlands simultaneously with the three-dimensional forces of the bike. I felt as if I could be moving and experiences stillness at once. I experienced a moment, and a span of time, simultaneously. It was a tremendous 60 miles.
From the badlands loop, I decided to head down into Nebraska and make my way to Omaha on the back roads to avoid the wind-pummeling from the elevated freeway stirred by tractor-trailers enjoying a respite to the high fuel costs. At first, I was turned back, yet again, by an unexpected gravel road, but finally I found a paved two-lane to take me south through the Rosebud reservation, into Nebraska.
Frankly, though I notice, I try not to comment on the physical beauty of people, except to them. But I gotta say, “Rosebud” is an understatement. I stopped for fuel in the tiny town of Mission, and everywhere were beautiful people.
Also, at Mission, I thought I’d successfully dodged a storm that I’d been following for quite some time, but shortly after I left the town, I caught it and we fought for the rest of the evening.

Eventually, the storm won, and I stopped 150 miles short of Omaha, beaten. I’d stopped once and waited out what I thought was the worst of it when it was getting too painful to my legs. When I started out again, the rain was manageable, but as darkness joined the dark of the storm, I began to have intense knowledge of wildlife waiting in the alfalfa at the edge of the road to cross in front of my bike. After 60 more miles, I came to rest in O’neill, Nebraska, where the store clerk told me I’d chosen wisely. Two men had been killed this week by collisions with deer while riding motorcycles.
I prayed the prayer of gratitude, and drifted off to sleep.