We have officially entered the West–the land that Americans always dream about. When there is an epic adventure in the States, there is always the West and its vast horizons to explore. I too have been thinking about traveling in cowboy territory, it seems like this is the promised land, where true Americans can show their grit and tenasity. This is where real pioneers claimed their chunk of Manifest Destiny and made their mark on the land.
The past few days in Nebraska and South Dakota, we have been traveling through a vaccum. There are the marks of civilization, but it is a civilization of the past, one that seems to only still be holding on because the people here are strong and use to loss. The small towns I’ve been passing on the strangely desolate highways are no-nonsense. There is a convience store, a gas station, a closed thrift store, and one bar or place to eat–no frills last in this terrain.
I was sleeping in the van, sick, for the two days that took us from Iowa to the middle of South Dakota. I woke up and looked around last night and today and found myself sad. These are towns where people remember the old days, the days where tourists came and hunted their wildlife, swam in their gorgeous lakes, and stayed in hotels worth talking about. Today, highways bring people into and out of the same towns at ever increasing speeds. Speeds at which these towns can barely be seen–the drivers blink and never know the town was near.
People, when we see them, are still friendly, but I get hints of confusion or distrust. Cyclists don’t belong in this country, and travelers who spend time or money are sparce. Who are we, and why are we here? A question I think we are all asking ourselves on the long, dry, and hot rides. Warm breezes have replaced Iowa’s land of sloping valleys and hills, warm breezes, soarching sun, and flatness as far as the eye can see. Hay and straw have replaced the endless rows of corn and soy we have been rocked by the past few weeks.
Today was the first time someone was surprised that I came all the way from New York. In this small town, with its ‘For Sale’ signs, and dilapitated Main Street (which was recently re-done–with new planters put in ten years ago, according to a local), I am as foreign as someone from abroad. And I suppose their way of life here is foreign to me. Today was the first time I have felt far from home.
Like the landscape here, I’ll let the images say the rest for tonight.