A small group showed up to see the New East India Company’s maiden voyage depart. It was an hour before dawn. Two inches of light snow had fallen the night before and the temperature was in the low twenties. If the day was anything like yesterday, the snow would be melting by mid-morning.
Vernon Blastic was giving Steve Straeder and Walt Shaw last minute horse advice. “There are shoes and nails in a tool box blah, blah, blah...”
Little of the advice registered with Steve or Walt. Both men were learn-by-doing kind of guys.
Kelly and Di were there. The two Wilders. Kate and Rick Salazar. The two men were given letters of introduction to friends and family who might be along the way, who might be in a position to lend assistance. Most important, Dr. Samantha Wilder gave Steve a letter of introduction to the team in Ames, Iowa.
And Sally was there. Sally and Steve did not talk. The silence was frigid.
Joyce and Lucky leaned into the traces and the wagon effortlessly started moving forward.
Sally started walking beside it but was quickly left behind. Dog was riding on the wagon between the two men and he barked at Sally and her new pup.
Steve would have yelled at her but he was loath to make a scene in front of the creme of Capiche's society. She would doubtlessly stop following when the wagon was out of sight.
Except she didn’t. The wheel tracks were impossible to miss in the snow.
Sally wasn’t afraid of the dark. She had the pup and she knew Capiche and the area to the immediate south like the back of her hand.
Steve and Walt stopped for an early lunch. They screwed three mobile-home anchors into the unfrozen soil and tied off the three horses. Lucky, who was a moose, quickly got down to the business of cropping the overgrown bluegrass. That was part of why he was an easy keeper, he grazed at every opportunity.
Steve and Walt were breaking their lunch camp when Dog started barking like a maniac. Steve grabbed the pump shotgun and Walt picked up his scoped, silenced .22
That is when Sally and the pup rounded the corner and came into view.
There comes a time when a man is beat. Steve knew that Sally was just stubborn enough to walk all the way to Ames, Iowa. He also knew that a single woman walking alone was prime pickings for all manner of bad men.
Silently cursing, Steve delayed breaking camp long enough to make three more burritos and to give Sally a boost into the shotgun seat.
Then Steve started walking behind the wagon. Be damned if he was going to ride with her. The physical act of walking and jogging was a good complement to his anger.
Riding with Walt, Sally said “I appreciate you staying out of this.”
“Yep” Walt said.
“No, really. Most people would have stuck in their oar” Sally persisted.
“My dad told me a long time ago. Married folks are like a pair of scissors. They might look like they are working at cross purposes, but never get between them unless you want to bleed.” Walt said.
Walt held his counsel as Sally chattered away. He learned that she had stowed her pack in the wagon the night before. He heard about notable acting and singing gigs.
Walt deduced that Sally was the kind of person who talked to work off stress. He and the other fighters had talked about women on many long, lonely night watches. Some of what they discussed was true. He could see why being left alone was hard on her, what with nobody to chatter at.
Walt swapped with Steve after two hours. The difference in the atmosphere of the wagon was marked.
The expedition broke camp after six hours of travel. Steve’s original plan was to start at day-break and knock off while there was still two hours of light left. At 25 miles per day of travel, he figured it would take about 35 days if they had one lay-over day every week for rest and equipment repair and then he threw in a few extra in case of storms.
They could have pressed on farther on the first day but they had already clocked their twenty-five miles and could use the extra time to sort out equipment they were unfamiliar with.
The horses were staked on a hundred foot picket line. The 12 foot long lead rope on each horse terminated in a chrome-plated ring that slid along their third of the picket line. The ends of the picket and the two dividers in the middle were screw-in, mobile home anchors.
Sally opted to sleep inside the wagon.
Steve and Walt opted to sleep under the awning with the wagon and bat-wing extensions closing up three of the four sides.
It was a long night for both Steve and Sally. Walt snored.