November 5, 2005

Today we pulled into the town of Ten Sleep to get some lunch before continuing on to Gillette. Ten Sleep got its name from the Sioux; they measured distance by the number of times they slept on the way to their destination. Ten Sleep lay halfway in between two larger Sioux settlements, ten sleeps in either direction.

Ten Sleep is a town of about five hundred people, the center of the town consisting of four corners, two stop signs, three bars, a market, two churches, and a collection of farms and houses. Beyond that, the Bighorn Mountains and big blue sky. I had the distinct feeling of being in America, the real America, far from strip malls and high-rise apartments. The walls of the café were plastered with local newspaper articles about who married who and so-an-so winning the geography bee and Family Night at the elementary school, where everyone played bingo, ate chili, worked on puzzles, and listened to the choir.

Ten Sleep, Wyoming sure beat out Winnemucca, Nevada, where we were stranded when our bus broke down last week. We stuck in Winnemucca for almost twenty-four hours due to a hole in the drive shaft. Not much to do in Winnemucca besides gamble, which you could pretty much do in any gas station, motel, or restaurant. It was surreal and weird and we were relieved to escape and get back on the road again.

I like being on the bus, especially out here where it's so beautiful everywhere we look. The bus feels closer to home than any hotel. I'm listening to Leo Kottke now, and gazing out at sun-drenched limestone cliffs and yellow grasses, dramatic clouds and snow-laden conifers. It feels good to be moving forward, on the way somewhere.

Yesterday we drove through Yellowstone in a snowstorm. We walked along the shores of large thermal pools and within feet of a herd of elk, lying in the grass and chewing their cud. Elk have such kind eyes. I wanted to run up and give them all hugs, but the horns on the male made me rethink that plan. On the way out of the park we had to stop several times for bison in the road, who were not even a little bit skittish around our bus. Why should they be? They could totally kick the bejeezus out of the bus if they wanted to. I couldn’t get over the size of their heads and shoulders. How they don't fall over, front-heavy, is completely beyond me. I really wanted to hug the bison but, again, the horns.

I'm enjoying this tour a lot. It's so different from last winter's tour, when we left Portland in the middle of an Indian summer, tense with complicated group dynamics, unhappy about the amount of driving we had to do, and weary after a full Christmas run of Biglittlethings. This time we left Portland just as the rainy season started, the group jibes well, we're going to great places, and I love getting the show in front of people again. Frogz is a really good show. After performing it several hundred times, I am still fascinated with its timing and subtlety and characters. While Biglittlethings is frenetic and undeveloped, Frogz is twenty-five years old. It's had time to grow and change and become polished.

We're coming out of the mountains now, 7% downgrade for the next five miles. Ahead are the western Great Plains reaching out to the horizon.