Stoke Factor: 4
Miserableness Factor: 7
Snot Rockets Blown: 2
Avg Speed: 6.7mph
I hadn’t even realized the clocks were going backwards to undo Daylight Savings Time. I woke up fairly early at Bryan’s. Staying on the couch for so many days eventually started to hurt my back. Truth be told, I preferred to lay completely flat on my air mattress pad. The couch pulled my body towards the cushions, and the incline was a strain on the vertebrae. When I got up, it was 8am and Bryan was hard at work making me a full breakfast. They say I got an extra sleep at night- when you get zero hours of sleep and spend the night staring at your eyelids instead, how many extra hours did I really get?
I took my time to get ready. Since Bryan agreed to drive me all the way to Kearney, we had a bit of extra time, planning for my push to Grand Island. I sent out a few requests to stay with hosts in that town, but one immediately went off the list, and the other never answered. I was instead looking forward to finding a local park and getting some stealth camping in. Once again, though the company was good, I wanted to be alone.
Bryan put together a full breakfast of eggs, toast, bacon, and cinnamon buns for me. He was excited for me to try his “dirty rice,” but I couldn’t grasp the idea of eating rice for breakfast. Breakfast was for eggs. Even in the days I tried out a vegan diet, I often cheated just to get eggs into my system. Regardless of how they taste, no breakfast truly felt complete without them. The cinnamon buns were a welcome addition. Loading up on carbs was something I often tried to do, because from the little I knew of dietary needs, that was essentially the energy I would burn during my skate.
The clock struck 10am and we were out the door. The air was cold, and not expected to get any better. Wind howled for the first time since I got to Nebraska.The forecast told me that the wind was going to be 15-20mph in a North Northeast direction, so I was looking forward to it. From Kearney, Grand Island was 40 miles directly northeast. We decided to stop on the eastern outskirts of the town, right by Cabela’s. Bryan worked hard to research some shoes for me to buy, but no matter what we found, it would have taken a hit on my bank account- money that could be used to further fuel me along the road. I skipped out on a Cabela’s run, and Bryan went to spend some points he had saved up.
We pulled over after a stoplight and I gathered my belongings. I was going to miss Bryan. He had a great soul- he never judged, and enjoyed the company of the many adventure cyclists he had coming through his small Nebraskan town. Aside from the squatter in his home, it was him and Dixie. I know that Bryan would have loved if I spent even just one more day hanging out with him. I had every bit of clothing I owned on my body- even the shorts I saved for sleeping. It was certainly going to be cold, especially with the wind. Facemask, winter hat, and gloves, I gave Bryan a big hug, waved to Dixie, and made my first pushes.
Not even 2 miles down the road I started hating myself. My legs were stiff from so many days off. The lack of activity to fit in some rest time set my body clock back weeks. Instead of acclimating to my “never stop” pace, I was sluggish. The wind was the exact opposite of North Northeast- it battered me at 20mph going west. Sometimes it would stop, but it turned a 40 degree day into a 30 degree one. I tried to record Facebook live videos, but the wind drowned the sound of my voice out. Between 2 and 7 miles I had to spend time walking. The energy wasted fighting a gust of wind wasn’t worth it compared to the consistency of a walking pace.
I was miserable, but focused. There was no option to stop. The next biggest town besides Kearney was Grand Island, meaning that everything in between was either a void of nothingness or a small town with the biggest attraction being a mound of corn. I wondered how they handled keeping it in the winter with snow, wind and rain falling on it. Bryan explained that even in the worst snowstorms, the wetness couldn’t break through more than a foot or two of corn. Often times they wouldn’t even lay a tarp on their 100ft tall piles of feed. All across my ride, from Oregon to Nebraska, the roads were lined with kernels of corn. I always wondered how they got there when I would be in between places with miles of nothing around. Often there wouldn’t even be a corn farm in a 200 mile radius, yet bits of corn were strewn throughout the shoulders of the roads. My general thesis on the subject was that birds that didn’t migrate south for winter would take their time picking at the piles, and take them on their travels. Or, corn trucks just simply dropped kernels as they delivered endless mounds of corn around the West.
11 miles into it, intermittently walking and skating, someone pulled over and asked if I wanted a ride. I felt guilty. At no point in my journey did I “need” a ride. Though my time frame would have left me still somewhere in Wyoming if I never took a ride, meeting the people who stopped for travelers was a journey in itself. This time, it was a younger person. Younger than myself, who at the age of 26 consider that to be on the cusp of death, requiring me to skateboard across the country to regain vitality and stay relevant. In fact, I spent most of my teens hoping that I didn’t peak in high school. The prospect of graduating high school, marrying some girl that everybody gawked at when push up bras were still deceiving, becoming a cop in the same town I grew up in and having children was quite literally a nightmare for me. Imagine spending your whole life being mediocre and then thinking you had the stones to make others assume the position!
I digressed: the person who asked if I wanted a ride was a clean, young man with attractive, dark facial hair and a quiet voice. His car was loaded with junk- we tossed my board on top of it and I sat with my large backpack in between my legs. He introduced himself as Dylan. Usually when I hitch hiked I pried into the driver’s personal life, but this person really wanted to know more about me. I think that was a major distinction between younger people and older people: the older ones loved sharing their own stories, almost in a braggart way, often talking over me as if trying to teach me something. The younger ones insisted they were doing a great service to humanity by scooping me off the shoulder. They would try and hear my story, almost as if they were comparing themselves to me. The reality was that there was no comparison to me. How many people lived 22 years as a man, obnoxiously and flamboyantly lived a feminine life after, then sold everything of value in order to skateboard across the USA in the winter? With certainty I could tell you that number: 1.
Once I started talking it was difficult to stop. Dylan was quiet. He didn’t really have much to say. I asked if he went to school- nope. I asked if he had a girlfriend or kids- nope. I asked if he had any goals- nope. He worked as a lawn sprinkler installer, obviously a job that was losing its business in the winter months. He had some family. Some siblings, a mother, and a military father. They lived in Spaulding, and he lived in Council Bluffs, a town resting just on the border of Nebraska and Iowa. I tried to discover what he was doing so far south on route 30 since none of his landing sites were anywhere in that direction, and he didn’t have an answer. I asked where he was going, and he paused. He spent a lot of time ignoring the road and staring at me instead.
“Are you a follower of Jesus Christ?” he asked me intently. I froze. I sort of figured that by that point in my trip it would have been a good idea to have a predetermined answer to that, but I didn’t. Dylan was 23 years old, hardly a child but still younger than myself, and in a questionable position to be asking me that. My thought was that at that age, he should have been using Tinder to hook up with local hotties, not dedicating himself to a being in the sky. I remembered Chris McCandless- on his journey to Alaska he too found “God.”
I had to admit at some point it was difficult to take in the fact that perhaps science was right- a mixture of coincidence and circumstance built the land we walk on and the mouths we talked with. It WAS difficult to believe that sometimes, when overlooking an amazing canyon pass following a river while an eagle swooped down and stole a salmon from its home, it seemed like a divine power settled it that way. However, just because I didn’t have that answer didn’t mean that the inexplicable happened. It was just as easy to believe a God created everything as it was to believe that Pangaea separated at the plates, forced land into mountains, rain occupied the valleys, and some single-celled organism eventually walked out of that water and started fucking itself until eventually monkeys turned into conscious humans.
I told Dylan that I believed in Mother Earth. I told him that in how he sees Jesus, to do good by him meant he would take care of him, was how I saw Mother Earth. He asked me if I ever received signs from “God,” and I said, “Sure! I get a sign that I’m hungry so that means I have to eat.” He didn’t like that one bit. He sort of went quiet, but piped up again to tell me why he was on the road. He started off with, “God told me to pick you up.” My silent response to that was that God needed to fuck off because I couldn’t keep getting rides I didn’t need – the integrity of my adventure was at stake. That was the second time somebody said that to me.
Dylan explained to me that he had a “near death experience.” My interest was piqued. Did he get in a car accident? Did a congenital heart condition act up at the young age of 23 and cause him to get a heart transplant? Did he fall in a hole and get wedged between a rock and a hard place, forcing him to knife off his own arm after 128 hours and walk to safety? No. No he did not.
Dylan was sitting in church, after being “damn near Atheist,” and closed his eyes to pray. He felt his heart stopping, and could feel the forces of Satan and Jesus pulling him in either direction. Satan wanted him to die in hell, and Jesus wanted him to come to heaven. Eventually, he snapped out of it. He was driving to Spaulding so he could tell his parents about his obscure event. To me, I figured the guy just needed to get some fiber in his diet, but I just said, “Wow.” I certainly wasn’t going to tell him I thought he was full of shit, or that maybe he needed to spend some time outside of his bubble where the nearest thing to look at was a cornfield.
As we drove on, he started asking me for my political views. He told me Donald Trump was put in office by God so that the citizens of the United States could see how bad they needed Catholicism in their lives. With my eyes bugging out of my head, I told him, “there is no difference between Democrats and Conservatives. The system in place is meant to keep you in fear. Fear that your heat will get turned off in the winter if you don’t work for someone else’s dream, cash your paycheck at a federally-backed bank, and hand over your time in exchange for goods and services.” I told him about how Ronald Reagan had 7 executive orders in his entire presidency, and Donald Trump had 52 in his first year alone – without the first year even being over. I told him how each president set a precedent: one creates the Patriot Act to spy on us, and the other using that information. I told him how Barack Obama looked fantastic in pictures yet managed to drop a bomb every 20 minutes without stop during his entire 8 year term. The people in office were just instruments of others at play, I said. Did it make any sense for people with AIDS to die because the government wouldn’t recognize it as a legitimate threatening disease because they feared gay people? If you played the game of society by marrying, owning a home, paying your taxes, and working with nothing to show for it except a couple of pictures and Facebook comments from your next door neighbor, you reaped what you sowed. I had no interest in his political thoughts- US politics was a cesspool of opinions you read in a timeline format on a website literally monitored by the government. It wasn’t a conspiracy theory. My political view was to not have one.
When I brought up the AIDS discussion, I went on to share about my own sexuality as a bisexual. Since he told me he was Catholic, I stayed far away from saying I was transgender. Dylan was very obviously confused and lost, and his influences in Nebraska did no justice in teaching him to think for himself. He said he had a lot to learn from me and was happy to have the discussion, but that changed when I opened up about my experience in Sutherland, Nebraska only a few days before. Shortly after that he dropped me off at a general store. He told me that since he was going by Omaha on his way home later that night, he would be happy to pick me up and drop me off there. We looked at a map and I told him where I thought he would be. My eagerness to continue expanding Dylan’s mind blinded me to the fact that he was very clearly ditching me. I asked him, “If you think your mission is to now be a devout follower of Jesus, why not throw away everything you own- the junk in your home and your shitty job, and go share your experience?” There was nothing against his religion in my tone. If he had a dream and something to share, I wanted him to share it.
Dropping me off and leaving me outside of Central City, I realized I left my sunglasses in his car. My brand new sunglasses, gifted to me by Bryan. Most people I met had a reputation for giving me something and Bryan gave me sunglasses. I was thankful for them, because when semi trucks passed me on the road they would kick dirt in my eyes. I was upset that I might not have ever seen them again. Dylan had given me his phone number, and didn’t answer my text when I asked him if I left them there. Part of me wanted to skate back to the store and see if I dropped them, but one thing that was consistent with me was that I never skated west. Not once.
I pushed on through route 30. There was an asinine amount of roadkill I passed. A skunk, a badger, a deer, birds, pelts of squirrels, opossums, and many other unidentifiable animals were laid to waste at the hands of a driver probably too busy to consider any life other than his own. Or, the animals were just dumb. Either way, it didn’t make me feel very safe on the road, especially with the wind coming at me harder than Kanye West did George Bush during Hurricane Katrina. “George Bush does not care about black people.” Fuck that always cracked me up.
Up the road, about 4 miles from the intersection where for the first time in Nebraska I would leave the Lincoln Highway, a pick up made a U-turn and asked if I wanted a ride. I almost said no, thinking that Dylan might have actually came back for me. However, interested once again in meeting people, I said yes. The driver was Matt- a guy with a cheeky smile downing Dairy Queen french fries like it was the first time he ever ate fast food. Matt and I instantly got to talking about how I was enamored by the people I met on the road, and he was now a part of my story. We talked about life and depression. Depression struck a nerve with Matt- he went on to tell me about his suicide attempt, something I never expected. I did wonder why one side of his face looked a bit “off” from the rest, but at no point was I going to ask.
Matt attempted suicide with a shotgun. He put the barrel in his mouth and pulled the trigger, blasting half of his face off in the process. My eyes went wide when he told me. The courage, not only to share that story with a stranger, but to be on the road living his life, was awe-inspiring in me. He was exactly the type of person that made the trip worth it. Hearing his story stirred a lot of emotion in me. Though in my own life I felt depressed and part of the reason I left my life so abruptly was because of it, I could have never had the gall to do what he did. On top of that, he lived. Getting up after something like that and living a full life like he did was nothing short of amazing.
Our conversation was short- he drove me up to route 92 and stopped just over the crossing of the Platte River. I was happy to meet him, and we connected on social media before we parted. As I pushed down the road, he sent me a message: “You had me fooled!” I didn’t know what he was talking about, so I asked him. “I thought you were 100% male,” he said. He said that because my “featured photos” on Facebook were me at my most feminine, wearing dresses and full faces of makeup. He assumed that I was a girl, passing myself off as a guy. I didn’t really go too far into explaining it. I just said, “weird world, huh.”
Further down the road I went, not ignoring the fact that the Daylight Savings Time change was affecting me. I was very quickly running out of daylight, with nothing between myself or any target. Since both rides I got launched me further than I could have predicted, I didn’t have anywhere to go. I saw that Osceola had a “city park” just 15 miles up. “15 miles,” I said. “I can do that in an hour and a half.” Of course, that thought would have worked if I was still on the Lincoln Highway, but the more east you went in Nebraska towards Omaha, the closer you got to the Missouri River, and the road started to become rolling hills- buckling and jumping in elevation with no rhyme or reason.
I didn’t have time to walk up any of the hills. I pushed myself harder than I had all day, just to try and make it to Osceola. I had no idea what to expect there, or if the park would have a secluded spot for me to hide my tent. Matt messaged me again. “Here’s the deal. I’m safe. I’m just enjoying my day. You wanna get to Omaha, I’ll take you. You could probably kick my ass anyway.” I explained that I recently spent 2 days with a convicted murderer, and that I would be very grateful for the ride. I figured if I got to Omaha, I had enough connections out there that I could easily find a place to crash. It was a 95 mile drive to the city.
I kept pushing east, not knowing when he would come and pick me up. The sun began to set as I pushed on. My phone died, and I didn’t have a solid place to put my phone so it could charge- the cable would intermittently disconnect if touched in the slightest. Very frustrating. I switched to my backup battery, but since I ditched my second backup battery back in Oregon without realizing that was the good one, it drained fast. Route 92 had a teeny tiny shoulder, and it was high time that traffic started to pick up. Cars continued to come in either direction, forcing me to walk during streams of endless vehicles. Had I not had Matt coming, I would have had to walk to Osceola, in the dark, while wearing black clothing. I wondered why all I had was black clothing. Why didn’t I anticipate to bring something brighter?
Eventually Matt did come, which was quite unlike Dylan, who very obviously bailed because his fragile faith in Jesus had no understanding that judging others for their sexuality was a very poor way to live life.
Matt was wondering what exactly I was. Having never, ever had a conversation with a transgender person, about one, and never having met one, he was confused. I took a chance to explain it to him in the easiest way possible. He didn’t say much on the subject, mostly just nodded his head with a small smirk. He said, “Well, I am a man of God, but doesn’t the bible say not to judge others? Besides, you’re cool as shit. I’ll be darned.” I thought that was easily the best outcome I could have expected from someone who was “the most red blooded American” (his words) out in the middle of Nebraska. He didn’t attack me or try and tell me I was wrong as I was. He still drove me all the way to Omaha.
Partway through our adventure to Omaha, since my phone had died, I told him my plan was to just grab a motel. I had no opportunity to try and meet up with anybody or make a connection for a place to stay. Matt told me that since he was tired, he would split the cost of a room with me, so long as I gave him the bed. I was more than happy to let the guy who gave up his Sunday to help me have whatever he wanted. As we drove, I asked him what he was doing out driving around, and why he had so much free time to assist me how he was. He told me that he had developed a crush on a girl, since his wife had left him, and he wanted to escalate their mutual friendship to something more. I had to sympathize- out in the farmlands I was sure that the women were and far between. Beyond that, the “attractive” and good-faithed women were even more dispersed, or taken already. At his age, he was worried that after his horrible and garbage wife left him, there wouldn’t be anyone else. Yet, he found a girl who he really liked. She was infinitely gorgeous and the way he talked about her was endlessly sweet.
His Sunday intention was to find a good spot where he could meet her and admit his feelings for her. He was going to have a flower sent to her work with a note on where to meet him, and he was going to lay it out on the table. Matt liked to surprise people and loved being able make others smile. I asked what would happen if she said no- wouldn’t it break his heart? He told me it wouldn’t, it would be the most clear way for him to know if his feelings were justified. I was swooning over how romantic he was. The girl his eye was on would be very lucky to have a guy like him.
When we got to motel he picked out, we learned that the price was more than advertised to us. Regardless, he laid his card down and paid for it. The motel was actually a hotel, and one of the nicest in all of Omaha. It was right downtown, in the Old Town district, with perfect proximity to the local bars and attractions. He told me his dream was to take a date there, and enjoy the city together. The hotel had so many floors- it was my first time in a city that large since passing through Boise. Everything was large. The hotel was so fancy that even the Wi-Fi wasn’t free. Matt told me that the biggest reason he chose that hotel was because of the breakfast they offered.
Taking advantage of the fact that I was in the city, I had food delivered for me to the hotel. I got a pepper jack mac and cheeseburger. In all honesty it was wildly underwhelming- but to be fair I ordered within 30 minutes of the restaurant closing on a Sunday. I should have expected it. After eating and recharging my phone, Matt and I went out to the bars. We both ignored that it was Sunday. The first place we went, we ended up being the only two in the restaurant. They ran out of wings, so for an appetizer we had to eat “chicken fried bacon” and it was more underwhelming than my burger was. I had two beers that were brewed right there in the restaurant, and Matt had a vodka cranberry.
For us, it was still early. Leaving the restaurant we heard jazz music coming from next door, and decided to stop in to check it out and grab more drinks. “Just one more for me,” he said. I had no plans for the next day- I was waiting in Omaha for a shipment of new shoes to arrive, however long it would take. Knowing that I didn’t have any intention of skating the next day, I indulged into more drinks. I joined Matt in having a vodka cranberry.
Jazz music tuned into our ears as we sipped on what may have been the strongest vodka drink I ever had in my 5 years of attending bars. The music was calm and peaceful- old men manned the bar and bounced the door, while a single waitress, cute as button, gave us our drinks. I was happy to cover the drinks, as I did at the previous restaurant, but Matt paid for them before I could.
We chatted about anything and everything. Matt was easy to get along with and I told him of both my interests sexually, men and women, and he didn’t bat an eye. We showed pictures of people we matched with on online dating apps to each other, both gawking and romanticizing ourselves with each. I had no luck online, Matt got a match. It was humorous to me that as a farmer in Nebraska, he frequented FarmersOnly.com. I didn’t even think it was a real site.
We retired back to the room after the jazz club. I pulled out the couch into a bed and Matt took up the king sized bed on the other side of the room. We were both asleep in seconds, me being infinitely more drunk than he was after 4 drinks between 2 bars.