The weather has been my friend, even when the sunny days and star filled nights were replaced with wind, rain, and temperatures that dropped by forty digits. Truthfully, I prefer weather that is clear and I prefer weather that offers warmth, but obviously that is not always possible. What is possible, is slowing up with the cooling temperatures and taking in a few gems along the path.
After the Badlands of South Dakota I relished the continuing warm weather granted in Spearfish. Ever been there? Best go. As I cranked up the Nancy Griffith and headed into Deadwood, I expected to see cowboy showdowns and tackle shops. Instead, the trail head of Mickelson Rails to Trails pathway met me along with the weekly organic farmers market and a much needed refueling spot at the Pump House Coffee. I picked up broccolini, garlic, and cherry tomatoes, and tossed in a few heirloom apples. Groceries for several nights at the campsite. Then I acquired a strong iced coffee to cool off the warming afternoon. But staying in Deadwood didn’t seem too inviting. The folks at the coffee house were great and pointed me toward Spearfish and away from the casino scene of Deadwood.
Spearfish. What could be there? Everything a person needs to entertain themselves for a couple of days: bike rental for that Mickelson trail, of which I sweated through about 30 miles of the 109 mile route; the Spearfish City Campground with a creek, clean showers, and friendly neighbors; and Blackbird Espresso offering up not only great coffee and wifi, but also fabulous blackberry pie.
The good weather ended in Spearfish and rain took me toward Wyoming where the speed limit rockets up to 80 and the gas stations raise you a quarter the further in you travel. I decided to pull off at Buffalo, Wyoming. I had never heard of Buffalo, Wyoming. I know that other Buffalo—the one in New York—not because I’ve been there, but because the weather channel always uses it to make the rest of the country feel better when cold weather hits. I thought Wyoming’s Buffalo had to rival its Eastern cohort, but New York wins with an annual average snowfall of 94 inches, while Wyoming’s Buffalo logs in at a mere 36 inches. I won’t be visiting either one come winter.
I planned to stay a night, but the respite in a warm hotel bed sucked me in for two and once I found the thrift store where I scored a well worn and thus authentic pair of cowboy boots, I started feeling like a local. Buffalo has one of those quaint downtowns with old buildings housing a lure shop, display windows adorned with quilts, and a solid brick laid hotel with inviting rocking chairs. Talk to any parent of a school aged child and you’ll also hear about Buffalo’s impressive school system. Did you know Wyoming has a retirement account for itself? Something I suppose we are all supposed to have, thus shouldn’t a state? Well, most states probably do not have those big money producing minerals to fund their retirement. Wyoming does and it uses the interest to build huge schools and pay their teachers well above national averages—hear that my NC teacher friends? Like the snow? The huge schools are for a very small population. Perhaps in another decade the number of people will match the altitude.
Aside from the investment gains from natural resources that are questioned to be depleting other natural resources, the locals I met provided a very kind resource for the state. Staying an extra day found me walking the Clear Creek Greenway, catching the homecoming rally at the Wild Canyon Woman Park and meeting Leon the retired rancher, Donna the yoga instructor, Wyatt and William’s mom who sells real estate, and Beth who works the local chamber of commerce front desk but who spent a year in Greensboro. Ah, it all circles back. They all seemed to be drinking the same Kool Aid; they love their town. Their enthusiasm was infectious.
The morning before leaving, I enjoyed the Johnson County YMCA. The smallest city in the US that boasts a Y with a pool. The pool was great. I swam and swam and didn’t want to get out, but there was an 8:30 yoga class to get to. Leaving the pool I met Ed and Ben, the swim coach and life guard respectively. They had to ask who I was. “We know all the swimmers in this town.” We talked for a long while and they encouraged me to stay for Thursday night’s swim meet and Friday’s homecoming football game. “But if you go toward Yellowstone, wear your orange. Hunting season is wide open and they are more likely to shoot you than a deer.” Aside from the possibility of being shot, I felt the lure of the staying put and settling in come over me. It didn’t help my resign to move on when I went to the yoga class and the teacher announced she had taken a job at the bank so the class was temporally canceled until another yoga teacher could be found. Was the universe baiting me?
As much as I could debate the politics and the issues of gun control, the underlying current floating through Clear Creek in Buffalo was not about politics or small town thinking—whatever that is. The current was pride. These folks like where they live and welcome outsiders. But they know it takes more than a pair of cowboy boots to keep you around. I asked about the snowfall and Leon says it is balmy compared to Northeast Montana where he lived. An army reservist at the local pizza joint said it’s worth the cold because Buffalo’s close to one of the most beautiful but undiscovered spots in America—Big Horn National Forest. I smiled. I wondered. But there seemed miles to go.