One of the many reasons I’m on this adventure is to grow as a person. I’ve always had a problem with self-confidence and independence and since I’ve been married, it’s easy to allow my special husband to do the hard things for me.
Making a trip of more than 2,000 miles without my favorite companion has been an exercise in growth as an individual and as a woman, but not as a navigator. That was always his job for obvious reasons.
Geography has never been my strong suit. I often catch myself looking for the mountains or the setting sun to orient myself to the west. But, when it’s noon on a cloudy, drizzly Tuesday and there are four lanes of traffic whizzing by on the parkway ahead of me, I have no idea which direction is north, south, east or west.
So, I’ve come to really heavily on GPS during this trip. If Apple Maps told me to drive backwards for five blocks, I might have questioned, but I’d likely have considered it. I knew from an old road atlas, Nebaska City to Walthill took me north along Nebaska Highway 75 and skirted the western edge of Omaha. So, I took off from the Bates motel, drove through McDonald’s for some bacon and Diet Coke and hit the rain-soaked road.
For 132 miles, I followed the crazy Australian lady on my phone and headed north, but there were several times I worried greatly. Why did I need to take three different Interstate highways, one for only two blocks, to go from Nebraska Highway 75 North to Nebraska Highway 75 North? Why didn’t I trust my instincts when I saw the NE-75N sign along 31st Street in Omaha? Where’s your self-assurance now, little girl?
And, so by the time I got to Walthill and Susan La Flesche Pictotte’s self-ordained hospital, I had decided to follow my own admonitions and take chances, take charge — grow personally and professionally like Dr. Picotte.
On the way back to Omaha, therefore, I stepped out and stopped more often on a whim. I flipped a U in the middle of an abandoned highway to take in the scenic view from above the Mighty Mo. I lingered in the Omaha Earth Lodge recreation to learn more about the building’s structure, the social structure of the Omaha tribe and their historic homeland. Oddly, they didn’t mention Picotte here, but they did have a great formal portrait of her brother Francis La Flesche.
I stopped again for the apple orchard with two varieties for sale, plus caramel apple dipping sauce. Just before arriving in the city, I quickly veered off onto Ponca Road. Of course.
Ponca Road meandered through a quirky residential neighborhood, dissolving into an older commercial district on 30th Street and ending at Bourke’s Gate to the old Fort Omaha, my original destination. It’s now Metropolitan Community College’s back door, but this was no coincidence.
And still, the rain poured down.
Finally, I took a break in the rain as a sign from above. I marched around the perimeter of the parade grounds at a brisk clip, hoping General Crook’s home was on the side of the square nearest my parking space. It was not, but the IT guy in the former Fort Omaha building was generous in pointing the way — to the opposite side of the now very wet, very large parade ground.
Let me say, I haven’t jogged in more than 12 months. But, as the skies opened up over Fort Omaha, I broke into a trot. Within minutes, I resembled not just a drowned rat, but a peach-colored, gray-haired, thin-lipped drowned rat.
I was wet, I was lost and I wanted a warm hotel room where I could order pizza and write about Dr. Susan. But, the forking GPS wanted to take I-680 three blocks west across two parkways and a bridge to get to the closest recognizable chain motel, less that two miles away as the crow flies.
Since the crow wouldn’t fly, I turned off the GPS, made a complete circle-slash-square around four Omaha city streets and ended up downtown, where I need to be tomorrow. The motels are $200 a night, but I’m warm, I’m dry and I’m writing about Dr. Susan.
Stay tuned for part two of her story, very soon.