Have you ever heard of Gillette, Wyoming?

I hadn’t either, until my first cross-country trip, three years ago.  I was driving west on I-90, bound for Sheridan, when suddenly I realized that if I didn’t exit and pee immediately I would die.  The fire ants in my bladder would consume my whole body in their evil tingly flames and I would just vanish; the car would continue on, driverless, until it veered into a ditch and flipped.  I wrenched the steering wheel with both hands and prayed that an exit would come soon.

The next exit happened to be Gillette, and, after taking care of business, I saw a sign for a library.  On the way to the library I saw an art center.  Inside the art center I met a woman named Blanche, who invited me to stay for the art show that happened to be scheduled for that very night.  At the art show I met everyone in the whole town (seemingly), including the mayor, and Blanche’s husband and five kids.  I stayed in their home that night…a single point of light almost dead in the center of the American continent…a series of events I’m sure would never happen again in 10 million lifetimes. Driving away the next morning – seeing them waving goodbye in the rearview – I was pretty sure I’d never see them again.   

Well, almost a thousand days later, I was back on I-90, this time in a different Volvo with stickers all over it.  My GPS said: “Um, why are you exiting in Gillette, Wyoming?”  We spent a few hours catching up and telling stories and eating warm pistachio bread.  The kids were all taller and either more shy or less shy, depending on their age.  I’m not sure what any of this means, or if it needs to mean anything, but I’ve learned that the line between stranger and friend is indeed a thin one, if only we are engaged and open to connection.  There is no quota for our friends; we aren’t limited to those we happen to live next to or work with or six next to in school.  This seems obvious, but is nice to remember sometimes. 

Sorry for the lack of posts this week, my laptop has been on the fritz.  Here are some of the images from the past seven days, with notes. 

The most beautiful sight: a basket of clean laundry. 

Current mile count since Day 1 is: 5,098.

In Kansas City we stopped for some authentic BBQ.  You know a place is authentic when it looks like a crappy strip club and has a wood pile out back.  Wood fired is the only way to go. 

These were shots from our event at St. Therese in Kansas City.  We wandered in on a Thursday and met with the director, who invited us back to run our program before their ice cream social on Friday.  Forget what I said about authentic BBQ earlier….real authentic BBQ is when you roll up with a custom-build smoker hitched to your pickup.  We sat on the porch and chatted with these gentleman for about an hour before we left…just an amazing breadth of stories. 

Here was my favorite: the gentleman on the left, Don, told a story of growing up on a plantation…in the morning they would milk the cows and set aside the milk to make butter…when they came back the next day there was always a layer of curdled milk on top that they would skim off and feed to the hogs.  Fifty years later he was walking down the aisle in the supermarket and saw this thing called “Yogurt” and thought…wait a minute….

We drove 10 hours and visited six states in one day.  This was the sunset as we crossed into North Dakota, driving north on I-29. 

The famous “whapper” of Wahpeton, North Dakota.

My friend Jenny with her dog, Gunnar, and Teddy Bear Roosevelt. 

This may look like an ordinary K-Mart…but to me (and only me) it has special meaning.  This was the K-Mart in Mitchell, South Dakota where I slept in my car on my first cross-country sojourn.  Three years later I stayed directly next door in the “Quality Inn.”  Living the dream. 

The Badlands!  It’s like the ocean receded 2,000 miles and left this beautiful sand castle to drive around inside…

Off now to meet some more strangers!  More photos soon as I can. 

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