I wake in my tent just after sunrise to a roaring lion. WTF? I quickly recall that this riverside campsite lies next to the local zoo. Either I roar back or get up. I get up. I make coffee and oatmeal, collapse the tent, and pack the car.
I drive to Scottsbluff National Monument, close to the Wyoming border. I walk the wagon ruts of the Oregon Trail. For most of the trail, wagons spread out to avoid the dust clouds from wagons in front of them. At Scottsbluff, the riverside trail narrows between tall bluffs, forcing emigrants to use a common path. West of the pass, the empty prairie finally gives way to mountains.
I climb the park trail to the 4649-foot top of Scottsbluff. Poor Scott died here alone almost two centuries earlier. From the top, I can see my future path into Wyoming. I try to focus on the views but think instead of San Francisco.
From Scottsbluff, I drive along the river into Wyoming to stop at historic Fort Laramie. Many 1850-1900s military buildings have been preserved or restored here at this important frontier fort. I tour cavalry barracks, surgeon’s living quarters, and the bakery. Signs warn about rattlesnakes.
I fret for the ailing car along the hilly drive into Cheyenne. A road sign announces over 8000 feet! This is not the place to break down. I have a becalmed lunch at a sect-run bakery in a residential part of Cheyenne.
Laramie is not much further along from Cheyenne, but highway 80 roadwork slows traffic. Late afternoon, I pull into my home for the night: The Gas Lite Hotel in Laramie, WY. Plastic buffalo and wooden cowboys fill the motel courtyard. The Indian chief painting over my bed either repels room invaders or keeps me up at night. WhY? Why not. The eastern European motel proprietoress, with the world’s largest goiter, recognizes my Dudek last name. I have trouble not staring at her goiter.
As I drive only during the day, I usually pull into a new town around five o’clock. I just want to rest after checking in to my hotel, but I yank myself anyways out of bed. The few hours before sunset are when stores are still open, restaurants do not mine early solo diners, and it is easier to talk to strangers.
Wandering Laramie, I walk by the recommended Buckhorn dive bar to see the most troubled souls inside. I try instead the neighboring bar but find it similarly unfriendly. I drink a sad bottle of Black Butte Porter and read Mutiny on the Bounty. Laramie is dodgy, dodgy, dodgy.
I turn the corner and pass Melissa’s, a vegetarian restaurant. Laramie is looking up. I turn another corner to spot Coal Creek Coffee. I stop in for a cappuccino and enjoy the convivial interior. I spy a small doorway to a taproom. Could this be a brewpub?
When I travel with my brother Ray, we alternate coffee with beer so we do not stay anyplace too long and get neither too drunk nor too caffeinated. As I settle into my bar stool in the taproom, I realize that Coal Creek Coffee and Taproom has everything I need. I could be here awhile.
I order a flight of four small beers. Not bad. I talk to the bartendress and the older couple to my right. The couple has a lot to say and ask about. I order another beer and a pretzel. The wife is named Lois and she once heard Janis Joplin sing in Austin. I’m pretty drunk. So is Lois. I urge her to order a pint of the 9% imperial saison. She sorta hits on me. I get another beer, fortunately a small one. Life spins.
Seven at night and I’m stumbling the streets of Laramie towards the University of Wyoming. When I’m drunk, I seek solace in university bricks. I locate the chemistry department. I find the student coffee shop, about to close for the evening. I drink a restorative espresso and eat a dinner sandwich.
I walk the sunset streets of Laramie back to my car. Two cowboy musicians lean against it. I have to drive only six blocks back to the creepy Gas Lite Hotel. Coffees at 7am, 5pm, 8pm mean I hardly sleep. Yes, the Indian chief over my bed keeps me awake.