Travels With Steinbeck



“I am in Love with Montana.”

Come and ride along with me as I follow the Steinbeck route from Travels with Charley around the U.S. and “rediscover this monster land.”

The Badlands look pretty good in the early morning decked out in snow.

The Badlands look pretty good in the early morning decked out in snow.

Steinbeck’s Route: It’s anybody’s guess how Steinbeck got out of Chicago—even in 1960 there were many choices.  My guess is—U.S. 14 to Madison, Wisconsin and U.S. 12 to Mauston, Wisconsin where he stayed. U.S. 12 would have taken him to the Twin Cities. He most certainly followed U.S. 52 to Sauk Centre and U.S. 71 and U.S. 10 to Detroit Lakes where he spent the night. In 1960 U.S 10 ran all the way across North Dakota from Fargo to Beach and was also the main southern route across Montana. Today it has been replaced  by I-94 and I-90 (my route).

The Landscape: There was little to engage the eye in North Dakota. In fact, when the rather flat terrain redolent with brown-on-brown flowing to a brown horizon was interrupted by the occasional camel’s hump hill, it was adorned with a huge cutout of a cow or antique farm equipment. The Badlands to the west around the Little Missouri River splashed in some pink and blue for welcome variety. I think the Badlands look rather good with a dusting of fresh snow, as was present when Max and I woke up in Teddy Roosevelt National Park Monday morning, October 12th.

What story lies behind these discarded items in Western North Carolina?

What story lies behind these discarded items in Western North Dakota?

The Steinbeck Connection: This is a section of Travels with Charley in which Steinbeck gets philosophical about many subjects. He mused on the mystery inherent in Fargo, North Dakota (the Cohen Brothers know a thing or two about that), as well as the state of being alone. He wrote about the agelessness of thespians after meeting an itinerant actor.  He had a discussion with Charley about America and whether the two of them were actually learning anything about it, “Does all America so far smell alike,” he asked Charley.  He examined some garbage Charley turned up and mentioned the danger of leaving a trail (he found a note indicating the man who lost it was on the lam after not paying alimony). Finally he relayed the eerie and disconcerting qualities he perceived in the Badlands and, after leaving them behind, fell head over heels for Montana. “I am in love with Montana.”

I felt most of my creepy aloneness in Wisconsin just after saying goodbye to my wife, Dimmie, while camped in dense woods far away from anything and anyone, except for one canvas tent full of strange men. I caught myself thinking sinister thoughts about them. But, I was cheered that night by an envelope of grateful and supportive notes from a class of ninth graders I visited with in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. I thought the Badlands of North Dakota looked good in snow.  It was important to learn I could rise to the  early morning challenge of driving in snow, pulling the Winnie. I visited The Little Bighorn Battlefield—it was a powerful and chilling experience. And as for Montana, although not without its flaws, it is spectacular for sure; I could fall in love with Montana but then I would be cheating on Wyoming.

Eastern Montana lawn art.  Rocinante, is that you?

Eastern Montana lawn art. Rocinante, is that you?

The Dog: My buddy Dave sent a comment that Max seems to be getting younger on this trip, and it is true. Max has been a wonderful companion. I have never felt closer to him. He seems to be recovering nicely from the botched tick removal the other day and has forgiven me my clumsiness.

Sweet Notes: My old friend, Clint, just called and gave me some feedback on my blog. He closed with, “If you get in trouble anywhere within 300 miles of here call me and I’ll be up from Idaho to help.” Now that’s sweet, and it’s great to know Clint is riding along.  I also heard from Marilyn who wrote, “I love seeing this ‘monster land’ with you and Max while sipping my morning coffee at the dining room table before going to work.”  Thanks for riding along Marilyn.

Thank you for riding along. Let’s talk again soon, shall we?

Greg Zeigler

Travels with Steinbeck: In Search of America Fifty Years Later

Copyright © 2009

Last Stand Hill from the perspective of a charging Sioux warrior.

Last Stand Hill from the perspective of a charging Sioux warrior.

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  1. * Marilyn Osborne says:

    Hi Greg, I love seeing this “monster land” with you and Max while sipping my morning coffee at the dining room table before going to work. Of course, it would be even better to be there! Maybe Jeanne and I will take such an adventure one day. Thanks for the Max mail!

    | Reply Posted 7 years, 8 months ago


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