Last night I stayed in a $30 motel where, due to a quirk of the plumbing, the contents of my upstairs neighbour's toilet bubbled up through the plughole of my washbasin. I had been warned that Salina was the bad food capital of America, and dinner at the Ponderosa Steakhouse was accordingly dire.
Tonight I am staying at the luxurious Chase Park Plaza Hotel, in a corner suite, high floor, park view - courtesy of Bob and Jamie Craft, who are also allowing me to gatecrash Jamie's 60th birthday celebrations at the exclusive Niche restaurant where their son is the head chef.
I love it when these juxtapositions occur in my life. I didn't mind the humbleness of my bed and board last night - I was tired after another long day driving and grateful for anywhere to lay my head. But I am also grateful and appreciative of my much nicer circumstances tonight - and all the more so because of the contrast. If I enjoyed this kind of luxury all the time, I'm sure the delicious pampered feeling would soon wear off.
And I'm REALLY excited about getting to use the fab facilities in the hotel gym tomorrow morning - a bit different from my early morning trot across the flats of Kansas followed by a dumbells session in my room that constituted my workout this morning.
Today I left late from Gary and Amy's ranch - by the time we'd fed the horses in the crisp, bright morning, and I'd dropped Amy off in Colorado Springs it was already 1pm.
I ploughed on eastwards - and was rapidly immersed in the flattest, most featureless landscape I have ever seen. Welcome to Kansas.
To pass the time I listened to a CD I'd got from the library - a couple of lectures by Eckhart Tolle, author of 'The Power of Now'. The lectures were called 'Entering the Now'. Appropriately, given the nothingness of the landscape, the philosophical lesson on the CD was all about embracing the nothingness, and how to find serenity and peace in the absence of busy-ness and goal-driven thought.
I'm listening to these recordings in the hope that they will help me cope with the tedium of spending day after day on a tiny rowboat on the Pacific Ocean. I found this a constant challenge on the Atlantic - sometimes the lack of mental stimulation nearly drove me crazy.
I now think I've found the land-based equivalent of the Atlantic... and it's name is Kansas.
A few pics from Gary and Amy's Bear Basin Ranch in beautiful Colorado....
Hats in the ranch house
Feeding the horses
A palomino gets nosey
And the local equivalent of neighbourhood watch.
It was just around sunset when I rolled into Bear Basin Ranch last night. I would have been here sooner, but I'd taken a wrong turning at one point and ended up in a very picturesque canyon with sheer rock sides that brought to mind a phrase I'd read in a book recently - 'Geological time includes now' - which is an elegant way of saying 'Watch out for falling rocks'. The book was 'Between A Rock And A Hard Place' by Aron Ralston, who had to perform a self-amputation when a small boulder fell on him, trapping him by his arm. He had a choice between cutting the arm off or dying of thirst.
Anyway, I eventually arrived at my intended destination, all limbs intact, to stay with my friends Gary and Amy. Gary was the American co-leader on an Anglo-American expedition to Peru that I went on in 2003. We set out to find some specific Inca ruins near Machu Picchu, that had been discovered once before, but the location had been mis-mapped and they'd been lost again. You can read more about it from my Peru expedition blog.
Gary is 66 now, but still as twinkly and energetic as ever. He mixed me one of his legendary martinis and showed me around the ranch house, which was exactly as I'd imagined it should be - cowhide rugs on the floor, cowboy hats hanging from bull horns on the wall, no running water... Then the martini kicked in and I had to go sit in front of the woodburning stove while I recovered.
It's now a bright and sunny morning up here (elevation 9000 feet) and Amy is about to show me around the ranch. There was mention of getting me on horseback. Errr...
[Photo: Gary and Amy]