We head back in mid-afternoon, the Brick driving our new truck and me following in the Outback.
|Yep, that's him.|
The roads are clear, but freezing rain is threatening. Not good.
After hours of driving, we're both down to half a tank of gas...and in the middle of some seriously beautiful landscape. Deserted, hilly...not even the occasional farm. A few homestead buildings here and there, and some disinterested cattle. No matter -- Charley the dog finds them fascinating.
The miles spool by. Wind's picked up...but you can handle it when you're expecting it. The rain is holding off, sort of...as long as we keep going.
We're out of North Dakota now, into South Dakota, my dad's birth state. Down to an eighth-tank. Still nothing, but a sign promises 'next services: 33 miles.' Should be just in time.
More lovely, wide-reaching landscape. Once you live out here in the West for a while, you appreciate the chance to look 10, 20 or 30 miles in every direction. I get a little claustrophobic now when trees hug the road on both sides. (Makes me feel squashed.)
We drive by a clump of trees, augmented with ranch buildings. A little sign on the road flashes by -- I catch the words 'Hoover fuel and groceries.' Where? I didn't see any kind of store.
More miles gone. My gauge is solidly on EMPTY now. The Brick says he has about 1/8 tank. I am desperately trying not to worry.
I mention the sign. (He saw it briefly, too.) Every few miles brings us to the top of a new set of hills. No lights, no one else is out there...but us.
Finally, we turn back. Off the road:
And on the edge of the trees:
I wouldn't have known, except for the name and the lit beer sign in the window.
Woodsmoke is in the air -- so are frozen bits of sleet. We're surrounded by a yapping pack of dogs, which immediately catches Charles and Abby's attention. There are two rusty gas pumps to the side: one for diesel (which the truck needs), one for unleaded (for the Outback). Thank you, God.
The Brick, shivering, gets to work.
Those icicles aren't for decoration, folks.
I notice this across the gravelly area:
|Must be where they live, right? I forgot to ask.|
The bossy head dog, eyes milky with age, allows me to step past and open the tinkling front door.
|Leader of the pack -- and guardian of the store|
Full tanks of gas -- WHEW. I realized I had probably been holding my breath at times.
The inside of the building actually looks like a store: shelves with canned goods, a cooler on the other side with beer, a bowl of grapes and some fresh edibles. A scrubbed round wooden table in the center of the room is covered with paperwork. (Working on taxes?) An equally scrubbed counter, holding the cash register... and a near-empty bowl of potato chip crumbs. Free bar snacks with the beer, maybe.
Leona, an older lady in her late 70s, bustles out to look at the gas pumps, so she can (hand)write the totals. She doesn't take credit cards. (Thankfully, I've remembered to bring along the checkbook.)
I could swear that somehow we've traveled back in time...maybe to 1976 or so, when Leona said they'd bought the ranch.
We thaw out by the woodstove, have a friendly conversation about where we came from, and how long she's been there. Her daughter's family runs the farm now -- but Leona kept the store "and 50 acres." Their area has a Castle Rock too, she said...with another store near it, tucked among the farm buildings. "But now it's closed, and the lady just lives there."
The ice is still threatening -- we have to go. The guard dog allows us out the door, after grateful thanks and a presented check. Then, Doritos in hand, we're on the road. Fifty-five miles later, a small town, Belle Fourche, appears...with food and gas stations.
While topping up, I said to the Brick, "Did we dream that?" He said, "I'm not quite sure."
Without Leona and her Hoover store, we would have been walking.
If she and the store were real, that is. I guess they are.
(Found an old photograph, too.)
|Headed home to our Castle Rock...Colorado.|