A day of rest


The bad weather that was forecasted the day before yesterday eventually managed to find me last night, on a campground just outside Topeka, Kansas, where I am still. Thunderstorms on the prairie are notorious so extra rope and tent pegs were lying ready next to my inflatable bed. But the storm turned out to be a modest one, with just a single flash and one bang. After that it was mostly rain pouring down and that actually made it pretty cosy inside my little mobile home; the rain came rattling down on the canvas as I was reading in my sleeping bag, cosy and warm. And now, in the morning sun, the world looks new and refreshed.

In 1849 Edwin Bryant, an emigrant on his way to California, wrote: ‘As we approached what is called the…prairie, the road became much drier en less difficult. The vast prairie itself soon opened before us in all its grandeur and beauty. I had never before beheld extensive scenery of this kind’
Yesterday, as I was driving from Independence to the west, right through Kansas City, there wasn’t much ‘grandeur’ left. The only things reminiscent of the days of the trail, were the city neighborhoods called ‘Overland Park’, where emigrants camped by the thousands, waiting for their company to gather, the grass to be high enough for the animals to live on, and they themselves to be sufficiently prepared for the trip, and ‘Shawnee’, referring to a Shawnee Mission Post, which in those days was located in the middle of the green prairie grassland. Before me there is no longer a beautiful, vast prairie to be seen, only long concrete roads, on both sides a continuous row of malls, fastfood chains, car dealers, parking lots, tire shops and gas stations.

I tried to find ‘Lone Elm Campground’, about 25 miles from Independence. It was named after an enormous elm, three feet thick, and an important landmark on the empty prairie. This was the first camping spot for many emigrants, who by now had left the United States.
The only thing I saw yesterday was a stretch of unused land. It may well have been the spot, but it was private land, and to be honest I didn’t really feel like staying very long. I just wanted to move on, and leave the city and its asphalt behind.

In the town of Gardner, a few miles down the road, the trail split. The Santa Fe Trail went south, so basically this was where the Oregon Trail was born, going west from here.
Everything looked a lot more friendly. Not the open prairie from earlier days of course, but green grassy hills with trees and cattle, farms and creeks.

In Gardner I found out by accident that there was a Civil War expo. This war started more than 150 years ago, but the memory is very much alive today. All the things exposed in the small museum were brought together by local people; from the beautiful dresses, the antique guns, the photographs, the handicraft works, right to the last lead bullet that somebody once found in his back yard.
Outside the museum there were demonstrations of making mats out of old cloths using an old wagon wheel, of shooting an antique gun, and even of firing of a canon. Everybody was dressed in late nineteenth-century clothing, and General Ulysses S. Grant and Confederate General Robert E. Lee were present. I even saw Abraham Lincoln walking around, and he didn’t mind having his picture taken behind my fully packed Yamaha mule.

Today is my day off. Time for a little reflection, doing some chores, and making a plan for the upcoming days. I found a nice campground, where, apart from the wind, a honking train in the distance is all I hear. Quite an improvement compared to the four previous campgrounds , where I had to endure a combination of highway noise and trains thundering along, or highway noise and flying fighter jets.
Later on today I’ll put some stones on the railway tracks. Tonight I will sleep like a baby.