I have always believed things always work out perfectly in the end, for some unknown reason. Today was another example. We were all set to leave Casper this morning, we were fully packed, finally decided what route we would take towards the Black Hills today and ready to put on our jackets when Anthony said his crooked neck was still too sore and maybe we should stay put another day. Of course. Perfect in fact as that way, we could get up early tomorrow and go and see the 30 or so hot air balloons take off at 6am: as we got up this morning and opened the curtains, we were graced with a stunning sky full of hot air balloons drifting past in the distance. Little did we know what an awesome day we were going to have!!!
It all started over breakfast, when the hotel receptionist brings us a map of the Black Hills which Doug, a Texan bike rider whom we chatted with last night, has left us so that we don’t miss any of the amazing roads awaiting us, each road colour coded, distances and special sightseeing sites marked. So useful!! How kind. And we have no way of thanking him.
We decide to go for a bit of walk as it will loosen Anthony’s muscles. Quick change out of our riding pants and boots and into our ‘town clothes’ and shoes and off we go. We haven’t looked at a local map but Anthony has a vague idea of where he’d like to head. After about 20′ we get to this:
We stand there a short while contemplating our options, can we climb down the bank? There is a fence along the railway line. Eventually, we turn back when a massive ute/pick up slows up and stops beside us: “you want a lift across the bridge? Hop in the back.” Wow, how did he know?! We laugh at our luck, it feels strange as we haven’t done this since our backpacking days decades ago. Australia has way too many laws including not allowing people to travel in the back of utes this way. He drops us off on the other side, tells us about a walking track along the river and how we can return to the other side further down and we watch him leave: he returns the way we came from. He must have spotted us as he was heading in the opposite direction, did a U turn to pick us up and eventually went back on his way. Another kind person.
It is a lovely walk along the North Platte river. The city council has obviously spent a lot of money on this for the locals. There are several sculptures, picnic spots, benches, maps.
We spot a mini golf. That would be fun! We go in but the staff are all busy cleaning the place. It does not open for another 40′ but they let us in anyway. Fantastic. We had fun. Anthony won by a mile including a hole in one.
We ended up being out and walking for over 2 hours – a good work out. Time for a rest back in the room and eventually we go out again for a bite to eat. As we walk down to McDonald (yes, there are times when you have to take what’s available but luckily they now make a delicious healthy Asian salad), a long distance cyclist goes past. I notice his safety jacket says Marseilles. “vous êtes Français?” I call out. He turns around and stop besides us. Jean is from Marseilles and is traveling from the Atlantic to the Pacific. He turns 76 in November!!!!
Amongst many other trips, he travelled around the world on a bicycle back in 2005. How inspiring. And what a character. We told you we were slow!!!! He tells us that he is following the American pioneers’ trails and is heading to Independence rock tomorrow. I remember we rode right past it on our way to Casper but didn’t know the significance of it. Pioneers used to scratch their name and date onto the rock as a way of letting other family members know they were at that point and when they came through. It is important for Jean to scratch his name into that rock for his great grand children. Stopping at that point was out of the question anyway for us as it was so windy. He is looking for a hotel and asks us where we’re staying. That is too expensive for him. Anthony suggests to me that we could pay for a room for him at our hotel – of course. Jean is touched by Anthony’s offer but turns it down. He does not need money, he just doesn’t like to spend that much on accommodation. We tell him that many people have been kind to us and it is our pleasure to do something for him. But no, he won’t have it. It is now pouring. We eventually say goodbye and tell him we’re going to McDonald’s for lunch. As we sit down with our lunch at McDonald and Jean turns up. He wanted to chat with us some more. I am enjoying chatting in French. Anthony leaves us and we carry on chatting for another hour. The offer is still open I tell him but he says that the offer is as good as if he took it up. What a great, inspiring man. I hope we manage to see him again when we return to France.
Jean inspired me to go to the local Museum on historic trails next, while Anthony rests. Jean was cycling across the US, following those trails – out of historic interest but also because they avoided the mountains! National Historic Trails are designated to protect the remains of significant overland or water routes to reflect the history of the US pioneers. There 19 such trails across the country, 4 of which come through Casper, including the Poney Express trail.
It is wonderful how people can touch you, at the most unexpected time. And you can have so many amazing experiences in just the space of a day.