8/24/13 – 8/27/13
I always knew RI was the smallest state in the Union, but it had never been as evident as it was while driving though the Midwest. Talk about a lesson in accepting the present moment! We were driving as fast as we could to finally be out of Missouri once and for all… only to come to Nebraska. Luckily we have gotten pretty good at entertaining ourselves with very little so we both found reasons to stop; for me it was the vast fields of Black-Eyed Susans, and Huck Flinn of course had to stop and paint Tom Sawyer’s fence for him.
All this excitement must have tuned up our adventure antennas because we decided to pass on the 1st camp we reached. Now if you’ve ever tried to camp for free in the States you will know it is not an easy feat – or likely you didn’t even know it was possible as there aren’t really an abundant amount of campgrounds that just let you pull in and sleep free of charge! And if you’ve ever stayed at a free campground you would know why people would rather pay $25 to have water or toilets, or even a camp store. No, where we camp you are lucky to have an old tire rim to use as a fire pit.
(Not that fires are part of this type of camping! In all of my life any time I’d been camping the main event was always a fire. I’d have a fire going from breakfast til bedtime, and I never once used a camp stove, to do so was sacrilege, all my cooking was done on the fire. And you would think it would be no different when full-timing it, I surely did, matter of fact I didn’t even think we needed to bring a stove when we left! HAHAHA More on that later I’m sure…)
As it turned out we never used a fire ring, we would have been luckier to find that the free camp had pit toilets.
So anyway, passing up a free camp is kind of a big deal because finding one is a triumph all in itself; but here we were in the middle of Nowhere, Nebraska moving on to find something else.
Luckily we found the next free campground, and even luckier we found a small bit of space for us to pull off the camp road and set up for the night. It wasn’t the best, I’m pretty sure it wasn’t even a site, but we made it work. We enameled until dark thinking we’d turn in for a movie but that’s when the motocross racing started up over the embankment. Round and round they went, screeching tires and cheers of excitement well into the night. You have to remember that when you live in a tent you live by the sun, so bedtime comes a lot earlier than it does for everyone else. They were probably done by 10pm, the middle of the night HAHA
In the morning we packed up early and headed out straight for the Badlands. Before leaving NE we stopped for breakfast at a little diner we passed. We were seated all about 5 minutes when our neighboring table asked, “So where ya folks from?” as if we had it pasted on our foreheads. Except we found, we didn’t need it pasted to our foreheads, everyone knew we were from out of town just for the fact that they didn’t know who we were. Everyone who walked in that diner was greeted personally by wait staff and customers alike.
“That was a great game Clint, you really outdid yourself in the end there, that’s the way to do it boy!”
“Where’s Joyce today, is she home getting a head start on her cooking for Sunday’s gathering?”
“I’m so sorry about you and Johnny, but you know Cole has had his eye on you for some time now…”
It was weird to be the only ones in an entire packed restaurant that didn’t know anyone, let alone everyone. But our neighbors were excited to have the opportunity to talk to strangers, and talk we did, just about through the entire meal. Tom and I had accrued many questions about Nebraska by this point, the polite ones we asked and were relieved to finally have answered. It was the perfect closure to our Midwest venture.
As we drove into South Dakota the cornfields were replaced with sunflower fields and I felt better instantly. When we reached the Black Hills I knew we had entered into a whole new landscape, maybe even polar opposite from the one we just left. It was so beautiful! And, I was so excited to finally see Scenic after all Tom’s told me about his crazy adventures there with Dusty.
When Tom was 20 he and 2 friends drove cross-country rock climbing. As they drove through Scenic, SD they stopped at the Longhorn Saloon so Tom could use the bathroom, but as soon as he walked through the saloon doors he knew they all had to come in for a beer. So the 3 guys bellied up to the bar and took in the sights; the old milk jugs as bar stools, the smokey Oglala-Sioux writing on the ceiling, the classic Marlboro Man keeping bar who only had cans of Bud to offer. It wasn’t long after that 3 guys their age (early 20’s) from the reservation came in and started playing pool. Somehow our guys ended up joining the game and 1 beer turned to many more. At one point a large (6’4” and full of muscle) local man came in, rumored to have just gotten out of jail for killing his wife, and joined in the game. Although not quite sure of the motive, Tom clearly remembers the guy lining up a shot and giving Tom the strong arm all the way til he was pinned against the wall. He says they gave him his space after that. After a few more beers the guys decided it was time for something a little bit stronger so they started buying pints of whiskey from the Longhorn Store next door. It was payday for the locals and many trips were taken to the store and back over the next couple of hours. Time for another pint, the boys gave Shaky Marv $10 to go get this one. After some time Shaky came back in but he went and sat down at a booth all by himself. Dusty got pretty upset with this. The boys tried to calm him down but he wasn’t having it, he ripped opened his shirt, popping off all the buttons, and stormed over to confront Marv who simply said he didn’t have their money or their booze. Someone, probably Dusty, decided it was time to take this outside. Our boys thought it best to stay inside however and from what they heard Dusty had Shaky Marv laid out unconscious in the dusty lot; what they know is he brought them their $10 back.
Drunker than necessary, everyone decided that next pint wasn’t really needed so they went back to Dusty’s and set up camp for the night… which turned into the weekend.
Life on the reservation was much different than what the boys were used to at home. The Indians were getting their money from finding fossils and selling them to the trading post, or trading them for a pint of whiskey ;) When they found out the boys had climbing equipment they brought them out to some cliffs where there was a fossilized tortoise shell in the rock. Try as he could, Tom wasn’t able to free the shell from the rock.
The rest of their time was spent running around the Badlands shooting guns, drinking beer, and eating Ding-Dongs. When it was time to go Dusty gave the guys some cans of government soup and cheese for the road.
Tom never heard from Dusty again but I really thought it would be so awesome if we saw him 20 years later! There are a couple of problems with that scenario however, 1. Scenic, the entire town, was bought by some church and anyone who lived there was gone. and 2. The chances of Dusty being alive at the age of 50 weren’t so good unfortunately; we’ve been told that’s just the way it is with the Indians living the reservation life, it’s pretty rough out there.
We didn’t see Dusty, or even get to go inside the saloon. We visited the town rummage sale that seems to be about the only sign of life in Scenic today. The buildings have been boarded up and though we tried, we couldn’t even see through the one tiny remaining window of the saloon.
We stopped for many pictures on our way to Sage Creek Campground in the Black Hills National Forrest. I don’t know what the temperature was but I was really hot, and dry. I missed water. All I wanted was to submerge my body in water. We pulled into camp and there wasn’t a tree (or any shade) in sight. Luckily we have the awning, and my trusty stainless-steel bowl! I love this bowl. I love it for all its uses from a produce bowl to a sink, and today I was using it for a foot soak. I sat under the awning with my feet in the bowl, reading a book. We heated some leftovers and hotdogs then took a hike up the hills before the sun set behind them. It was so quiet and just utterly peaceful out there. Tom had told me so many stories of his time in these hills and I was happy that we came out of our way to be here.
I took a sponge bath (using my bowl!) and finished just as the mosquitos were looking for dinner.
I started the morning with yoga (I’m really starting to love outdoor yoga!) and we drove out to see the Badlands, which were awesome!
We went up to Mt. Rushmore on the recommendation of many. Despite our National Parks pass they were charging $11 to park so we decided we had seen all there was to see of it anyway so we kept on – OH! How could I forget the Cookie Monster parking attendant! Man, I wished we had that lunatic on video for you, he was all jonesing for some cookies, asking us if our tent was full of them and if we’d give him some. I’ve had some pretty good cookies (if you know what I mean ;) ) and I’m pretty sure he had just had some too!
Tom had told me all about Crazy Horse from his last trip and I couldn’t wait to compare his pictures from 20 years ago to the ones we were about to take. Well, if we didn’t pay the $11 for Mt. Rushmore you can be sure as shit we didn’t pay the $20 for crazy horse. (Yes, we know this money goes to a good cause but we have our own cause to be funding at the moment!) We drove around the Black Hills National Forest trying to make sense of the Service Road map, well, the map wasn’t the issue, the roads just weren’t where the were supposed to be, I guess? We ended up down this road, then that, and then here and then we were there. Not quite sure where, but we tried to note each turn best we could so as to not be stuck out ITMON come morning. Camp found us when the road we were on all of a sudden ended, we decided that was as good a place as any and we set up shop. We took a walk past the barrier boulders and it let out to another road, a paved road, with bison in the field across from us. As we stood there watching the bison a Google Earth car drove by!
It’s nights like this night’s dinner that will forever remain in my memory, I will never forget the taste of that bison and asparagus, nor will I forget the way camp cooking makes me feel so indescribable.
We always make time for dinner, unlike breakfast, which is usually an afterthought (after we’ve gotten underway and my stomach starts screaming!). This morning was not unlike any other. We found an abandoned Dairy Queen in town and set up our camp kitchen on their outdoor tables. Tom made his infamous omelets using kielbasa today and I grilled bread to use some of the blueberry jam we got from Paul back in NC. I’m glad we made that stop because it was a long, boring ride out of South Dakota! I was so hot and bored that I was in and out of consciousness, at one point I opened my heavy eyes to see a KOA sign – that only means 1 of 2 things – showers, or a pool! Today was the perfect day for a swim! The water felt so good surrounding my skin. I could’ve stayed in there for days! We grabbed a snack at the snack bar, dried off and started out again fresh.
And then the moment I’d been waiting for ever since driving into these prairies, we saw bison up close and personal! I’d been talking about it for days and when the moment actually arrived, I was not as excited as I’d expected. It was sort of like Carlsbad Cavern, I thought it’d be wicked cool, but it was super scary! Those MF’ers are HUGE!!!!! Like almost as big as our truck! And they make noise, a very loud and ominous noise that sounds like they are going to ram into the truck at any moment, tipping us over onto our sides for the rest of the heard to come snort at.
We made it out safe and sound and drove on into to Wyoming.