Sunday, September 20, 2015

Day 17: Theodore Roosevelt

I started my day with a nice breakfast: Three eggs and toast with a Yoo-Hoo. The mom part of the mom and pop campsite came to ask how I slept in my tent: "fine, why?' I responded. And then I realized she was the owner and just being nice. I'm apparently still not used to that. She asked where I was off to and I told her that I quit my job to travel the country for some months. The guy in the conversion van must have overheard, because once I was packing up to leave, he chimed in to ask me how I liked this lifestyle.

"I thought I would miss working," I began, "but I don't." He chuckled and said he understood. That he just went back to work for 12 weeks doing electrical work down the road at a new wind farm after 16 months off. His name was Ron; fifty something, I'm guessing. He loves Jesus. And often takes whitewater trips in an inflatable kayak - once 135 miles alone. He one day wants to do the whole Missouri.

We talked for about two hours and he offered me something - anything. I took advantage of the map of the US he had that I had been searching for for weeks: A surprisingly difficult thing to locate. I did find one in Hill City (where the coffee shop I posted from the other day was, but it was from 1979). I suppose I shouldn't be surprised though, as I had been looking for a grocery store for about four days and had yet to really find one. (I don't know where people in the Dakotas get their food from.) He offered me more when, after 90  minutes of conversation about life and where I should go to next, we were saying our goodbyes: "Bourbon, weed, books, food...can I buy you lunch?" I declined and then he asked if he could pay for my next night of camping, "I really want to help you out on your way."

"Well, I'm not going to refuse it," I said and he handed me a $20.

Painted Canyon
About an hour and 20 minutes later, I arrived just south of the Teddy Roosevelt National Park. By now I was behind schedule (due to the lengthy morning chat) and I wasn't feeling well. Perhaps it was the eggs that weren't warm cold warm cold warm cold in my cooler attached to the 12V supply that only works when the car is on for the past three weeks. Maybe not. Either way, I was dealing with a dicky belly. Look, life on the road isn't all push button showers and eating that other half of the DQ burger you got while lost in Mobridge for breakfast after finding it on the driver's seat in the morning and other glamorous things...

I passed by Painted Canyon before turning around to see it. There were some buffalo on the grass: My first siting. I hung around there for a while chugging Pepto Bismol, visiting the lav, and wondering what in the hell North Dakota has against ginger ale. (I searched multiple times for it and no gas station carried it.) Feeling mildly better, I headed to the entrance to the park and was floored when it was $20 to get in. I tried to budget well when planning this trip, but it didn't even occur to me that I would have to pay to enter all the parks - and $20 to boot! The cheeky ranger at the station told me to blame DC; clearly she saw my plate. She handed me a park paper and told me to think about it.

I drove out and thought about the $20 Ron had handed me that morning. It seemed as though the universe was at work. I decided to use that money to enter and camp within the park since it was only $14; hike some trails tomorrow since I was feeling ill and weak today. Now, having seen it, I don't know why the park isn't more widely known because it was truly amazing. Suddenly, I'm healed. (Really though, like night and day.)

I'm really glad that Bill mentioned it (or was it at the random couple from Indy at the World's Largest Buffalo?) My favorite part was when my car got surrounded by bison - which resulted in some nice photos (see top). I am, however, still kicking myself for not nabbing a video of the whole ordeal. It was nerve-wracking a bit - I thought they would gore my car a couple of times, but I just stayed still and kept the Gershwin playing. (I swear the Rhapsody in Blue is why they kept coming nearer and nearer...that or the idiot behind me that kept walking up to them.)

I also encountered lots of prairie dogs, a coyote with beautiful amber eyes at the golden hour, wild horses, and some (what I think were) white tailed deer. Plus the amazing terrain of the park over a short 36 miles. I look forward to a couple of hikes tomorrow.

But first, when I arrived at Cottonwood campsite tonight, there were two more bison about 20 yards out from where I set up my tent. One even walked up to the woman beside me's picnic table and waited for a treat. Although when I went to put my camp deposit in the box, they had migrated there and gained a friend who didn't like my presence so hot to trot back into my car after popping $14 in the box.

Side note: While running out of food night, I made a really stellar meal out of what little I have left: A Knorr rive pack (chicken pilaf) with canned peas and boiled carrots plus a can of tuna. Quit tasty and filling - and as glamorous as this life is, I'll probably eat the other half for breakfast.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Day 16: A Trip-Saving Trio

Every night I sleep with a different tool from my arsenal - tonight it's my flip knife. There's no real rhyme or reason which weapon is the protection of choice for the evening,  but, to be honest, I meant to sleep with my pepper spray tonight (as in, had it when I was throwing things in the tent for the evening) and now I can't find it. And that was only the choice  because I put my stun gun somewhere earlier today when I went to the coffee shop and I can't recall where (I don't like to carry my weapons in my pack with me, just in case they search or something). So, suffice to say, I suppose, that the nightly weapon is based on availability/locational knowledge. Living out of a hatchback has it's challenges.

I have tried to be very diligent about putting things back in their places so far: head lamp hangs from the rearview, lantern/flashlight clips to the net pocket that hangs between the seats, floor of passenger is the kitchen, toiletry bag behind driver's, etc. I realize that with such a small space and a bunch of stuff, I have to be careful  about staying organized or everything will be lost and nothing will be found. In turn, disorganization would likely increase my prep time for doing anything: cooking, showering, pitching my tent, etc. if I didn't keep everything in check. Tonight, this came in handy.

After a driving day - Black Hills, South Dakota to Bowman (75 miles south of T. Roosevelt National Park), North Dakota - I decided to treat myself to a bourbon, and, by chance, a chipwich, which I had been in lust of since St. Paul. (A quick note to acknowledging how effing nuts it is that the topography of land can change so drastically - green mountain forests to yellow flat grasslands - in just a couple of hours of driving.) I finally got in before I needed to use my headlamp to pitch my house for the night, so I made a quick run to the gas station for ice and ginger ale after the pitch. While there, I unknowingly dropped my wallet and, while doing my routine roundup of things when I exit and/or enter the car, realized my wallet was gone when I got back to the site.

I rushed back to the gas station, mulling over the idiotic oversight to leave every one of my credit cards, et al. in my wallet. Luckily, the guy parked next to me turned in my wallet and Viv, the lovely Kum & Go (that name is questionable) clerk turned it into police. Small town wonderful, the officer (pretty sure the only one on duty complete with North Dakota accent) drove back to the station to return it to me. (Most weird was that they still don't use area codes in this town. For whatever reason, to me, that is so bizarre.) That trio saved my hide and now I'm back in my tent, (foregoing the bourbon even though I dug it out of my hideaway space under the trunk) hunkered down for another cold night - only this time it's a balmy 45 - in another mom and pop campsite.

I've sort of deserted my camp site app and, for the second night in a row, settled into a place I found via road signs that's owned by whomever's house that is out front. The app is useful, but also a bit of a pain: Like when I tried to use it in Fargo and ended up at a fairground. They had it listed as campsite and fairground in the app, but - I've now surmised - that probably only means that it serves as a campground when there's a fair going. So, here we are in Bowman, ND ... in someone's back yard (wallet in tow, flip knife to the right).

Friday, September 18, 2015

Day 15: Black Hills

Dances with Wolves set, and an idiot in the mirror, waving :)

waking up in the badlands. not pictured: the f*cking wind.
The wind is a bitch: Day 2. (See images at bottom of post for proof.) Only this time, my tent actually collapsed. I wanted to finish a chapter in the book I started reading in loo of my nightly Netflix, before I moved on with my day, but the stupid wind thwarted my plans. It was then that I discovered what the little Velcro tabs on the inside of the fly are for: So that your poles don't go all cattywompus in the wind. I packed up and emptied out my limp tent then took it down and headed to the showers.

On this day I learned that when I have to pay for my shower and it is timed and the wind is blowing in the shower curtain with it's cold air, I can take a shower in 4 minutes. This, in yet another green-turned-seasoned moment, meant that I had to stand in the luke warm water for another 4 minutes while I waited for it to time out and turn off.

I headed to the visitor's center, grabbed myself a pin (pins became my collection thing by happenstance, really), learned Interior (a town of like four next to the Badlands) had a gas station and headed on my way through Buffalo Gap Grassland to Rapid City -with a quick side road stop to pour myself a bowl of cereal. (It is surprisingly easy to eat a bowl of cereal while driving.) 

Unaware of what I was going to do next, and with no internet connection, I spent a minute in Rapid City running errands while trying to figure out my next move: Dollar General for supplies, washer fluid, rising the plethora of dead bugs off of my car (seasoning myself some more, I realized the flies were so awful in Fargo because they like the bug carcasses), and dropped by K-Mart to look for a cheap pair of leisure tennis shoes of all things I thought of in preparation, I missed every day shoes I can wear socks with). And I found some adorable ones (pictured below)! It's the little things.

I looked at a map I was given by the lady in the hotel in Mobridge, South Dakota when I almost caved and got a room but they had no vacancy. "Mt. Rushmore": I had been there before 20 years ago, but I thought "oh hell, why not." That seems to be a general theme I have here.

I made a quick stop into the movie set for "Dances with Wolves" then kept driving up the mountain. When I got there, I brushed my teeth in the bathroom before walking up to the monument. My life is growing in the number of situations I never really thought I'd see myself in: While looking in the bathroom mirror of a national landmark as I brushed my teeth, I realized this was one of them. After Mount Rushmore, the map said Crazy Horse mountain. With still no Internet and no idea what this was, I followed signs and the map to that. It's another carving in the side of the mountain - but I couldn't spend another $11 to enter a park today, so I had to pass and said maybe I'd come back for the laser show. What I really meant was: I'm broke but we'll see.

I wasted some time in Custer just down the road and admired the greenery and landscape before I decided to head back for the laser show. To my surprise, I was given free admission since most everything was closed down. I think it was mostly about it being past season. But I had a little cup of single serve wine I'd picked up in Custer as a treat.

After the show, I decided to stop over-complicating the campsite situation: See Mobridge. I headed to a site 0.3 mile from Crazy Horse. I was the only camper and it was well into the thirties, but despite the nervousness of Gary (and Tootsie, the owners) I had no qualms about sleeping in the cold of the night. I don't know if it is my confidence in what I'm doing growing or pure stupidity, but I slept through the night, ripe and ready for the next day - currently at Hill City having a cup of $1.63 coffee and mooching WiFi. Today, it's back up to North Dakota for Teddy Roosevelt National Park.

I wish I was making better time, every day I feel like I'm chasing light. I always think 'this will be the night I get into camp before sunset,' but have yet to achieve that goal, despite my circadian  clock moving up each day. In a way I feel rushed, but I also don't want to rush myself and move past anything I may was to see or, even worse, rush to the point of not enjoying this. I keep reminding myself to be in the moment and not about what is ahead. Because of all of my extra asides and stop and ohhh shiny objects and Buffalo Museums! I set up in the dark every night. I eat in my tent often and I can't remember the last time I had a hot meal (minus that Wall Drug kid burger - not recommend, but Pro Tip: Order Kids Meals, half the price and  not much smaller), but I'm really enjoying myself. 

Yesterday I was thinking that I thought I would have more existentialism, but that I suppose it's difficult because I'm fairly satisfied with myself
PBJ for dinner in a -10 degree bag? This is
my life now. And I'm okay with it.
(despite inquiry of of older men asking what I was running away from when I told them my plans before I began). Today, I asked the man not to zoom on me when taking my photo at Mt. Rushmore and he said something to the effect of, "Some  people don't know beauty even when its looking back in the mirror." 

I responded awkwardly with, "No. I think I'm attractive, but all my photos are close to my face because that's all the longer my arm is" and despite being mildly conceded in response (or perhaps just confident), I realized there is nothing I'm trying to fix by this journey. I'm just here. Admittedly, this trip is everything and nothing I had imagined, but so ful-fulling to feel so self-reliant and know that I can set up a tent in the dark in 8 minutes and sleep soundly in a night that sings 35 degrees into my bones. 


Self Portrait: Windblown

Interior's Gas Station was old school.
KMart, I will never make fun of you again. You've
go some sweet sneaks for $17! 

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Day 14: Wall and Badlands

Main St, Wall, SD: Wall Drug

I woke up in an intense windstorm form a less than restful sleep. I spent half the night waking up wondering if I should brave the rain and cold to tie down my fly and half terrified the tent was going to collapse - although if that happened, I'm honestly not sure what would happen; it's not like my tent was going to ball up and roll away into the Lake Oahe (or maybe it was the Missouri River) with me in it, but we'll blame it on still being green. Finally I gave in, irritated enough to leave in haste when one side finally almost collapsed at 8:30a. I think this is the fastest I'd ever packed up my tent and gear thus far - including taking a few minutes to eat the other half of my DQ burger from the night before that sat on the drivers seat that night. (Beggers can't be choosers, folks.) The morning was brightened - aside from half a cold burger, still delicious - slightly by the fact that 1. I got to choose my own water temp (ahhhhh so hot!) and 2. I didn't have to press a button or pay to use it.

Once I was ready, I was on my way to Wall, South Dakota - excited to see the first sign at 79 miles on and amused onward. I had been before, but it was 20 years so I figured it would be nice to go back - far, far different than my distant memory. I remember it being one big store - it was dozens of little ones. My original estimated arrival time was 3pm, but somewhere I gained an hour. I spent a while taking photos and ambling through the waves of elderly. Walking through Main Street I had the thought: I am bringing down the age average by about 10 years all by myself -- and that's not to say there weren't a lot of people there.

Next, I headed to the Badlands, about eight miles away. Lots of photos (I'm still trying to find the time to grab the photos from my big camera!! I don't have as much down time as I had assumed prior to starting this trek) and lots of little stops and it was time for sunset - I had been waiting for it, unfortunately clouds slightly obscured the sunset, but lovely nonetheless. I drove back out of the park (took some photos in front of the sign, hiding my idiocy under the guise of night - will have to upload that later) and then realized I didn't know where to camp for the night. So, once out of the park, I looked at the map for the park and realized there was a campsite in the middle of the Badlands - about six miles from where I'd just driven back from. I called and confirmed vacancy then drove 24 windy miles back into the Badlands interior to camp - paying close attention to my dwindling gas.

I got to the site about 9pm and set up camp. At this point, my tent and sleeping pad set up is sub 10 minutes. I've been timing it since I started. My goal is 5 minutes.  After a totally fancy dinner of tuna fish, I hid the evidence from the now howling coyotes and settled into my sleeping bag for the night.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Day 13: A Couple of Dakotas

my best attempt at imitating regal 

"[hopeful] Gas or Jesus? Gas or Jesus? [dumbfounded] Real Estate?! ... [feriously elated] Burger King! Fuck yea! ... [in awe] Oh. My. God. It's gorgeous." And welcome to an actual 30 second verbatim conversation I had with myself tonight while running near empty on gas and starving, seeing billboards for the first time in over 200 miles, and then noticing the changed landscape. Is this my life now?

Speaking of: Hello from inside my nylon house! (That Verizon Jetpack was a superb bullet to bite!) It's camp day three and I think I'm getting better at pitching this thing. It has been a bit frustrating getting over the hump of being totally green when it comes to this. And, full disclosure, I almost gave up and holed up in a sketchy hotel for the evening in BFE South Dakota tonight. This state isn't great about marking camp sites and tucks them pretty far away. After driving away from DQ (I hadn't eaten anything all day) with the drink atop my car and unable to find the site for the 3rd time, I checked the hotel for vacancy. She advised me that the sign for the campground is prior to the sign before the park. I went back again and somehow found it, unfortunately the registration was less than straightforward as well. Instead of putting money in an envelope, as I experienced in Iowa and North Dakota, they make you register online (or by phone) even for same day (moment?) reservations. Plus a $4 fee just to get into the park - so I lost a dollar stuffing a five in the envelope then another $8 for out of state fees. So there went $17 campsite - it's now $30. Par for the course, I suppose: It was a bit of an odd day, to say the least.

It started off across from a merky river that at night I assumed would be a beautiful lake - what with the abundance of lakes in Minnesota and Fargo being just over the state line. Not the case. And apparently flies really, really love that merky water. I couldn't get out of there fast enough after a lingering mosquito had the sharpest bite I've ever felt. I skipped breakfast, cleaned up - tried reorganizing my car yet again - and walked to the showers. I already have a short list of things I know I will look forward to having again once this trip is over. At the top of the list, perhaps, is being able to shower without having to press a little button every 30 seconds. (I mean, who can realistically shower in 30 seconds?! Yes, I timed it.)

With my mood soured by a poor night's sleep - in part thanks to the campsite being nestled under a busy interstate bridge - and the morning bugs, I decided to follow a sign for a zoo shortly after leaving the park for a pick-me-up. Red River Zoo was an adorable little gem nestled behind gas stations and fast food in what I'm guessing what a part of downtown Fargo. A couple of hours later I was on the road again until I saw a sign for the "World's Largest Buffalo". Well, duh. I stopped again.

the nice couple took my photo, but it's on my nice camera
and, thus, not easily accessible. will upload later for scale :)
There was a cute settlement of Jamestown along side the Buffalo and buffalo museum. I met a nice, middle-aged couple near the world's largest bison. They were from Indianapolis and just left Minneapolis that morning. They were following my trail - but at a much advanced speed. Heading to Yellowstone, they're likely in Montana by now but I dipped south on the advice of a man I met in a WalMart parking lot yesterday. Bill Butcher. (Hi, Bill.) An amateur photographer who warned me that after Bismark in North Dakota, there was nothing until the Teddy Roosevelt National Park and suggested I go to Wall Drug and Black Hills. I wanted to get to the Badlands (and Wall Drug again) so yes, this was my new plan. (Side note: Bill educated me as to why people in Iowa were looking at me like I had four heads and alien arms: Apparently wearing colors and tank tops in Iowa is scandalous. Well color me Scarlet!)

The sky was so beautiful when I arrived at the campsite tonight that I barely wanted to nestle into my tent. The stars so vibrant I swear I could reach out and touch them. I had been watching the skies flash in the distance while trying to find the site, but when I checked the weather and it was all clear. I, green and all, then assumed it was so special mid-west phenomenon. But now, I can hear the thunder; the rain drops are starting off slow, but fat. The wind is picking up - the rain intensifying as I type. I hope to stay dry tonight. Signing off in Mobridge, SD.

My current life in an image. :) - complete with collapsible
bucket for dishwashing and bags for trash. every inch of the
hatchback is used.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Twin Cities, Minnesota

I arrived on Friday night and planned to stay a few days. It's Tuesday morning and I'm finally gearing up to leave didn't leave. Honestly, yesterday, I just got lazy. My cousin and I had a great time and we were super busy all weekend - so I'll blame that. (Well that and I arrived on Friday still sick from whatever my nieces treated me with, so now it seems I'm on the mend.) We road bikes, visited a few of her favorite spots to eat, went out dancing. Aside from being fairly certain we were trying to be luring into a sex trafficking ring out of the nightclub, it was a good time all around.

Most notable, for me, was how happy everyone in Minneapolis was. The folks in St. Paul were nice
too, but didn't seem quite as content as those on the other side of the river. There was a certain energy that the people had and it was contagious. Secondly, there always seemed to be something going on. My cousin would look at her phone pontificating "what;s going on today" as if there's always something going on - but there is. There was a jazz festival downtown St. Paul on Saturday and on Sunday her favorite brunch place was having a "Block Party" with live music and whatnot to celebrate 20 years - an event we just happened to stumble upon at a 'garage sale' even at another of her local favorites the day before. If it weren't for the snow, I would definitely consider setting up shop in Minneapolis. Go figure. 

Having not done my homework yesterday, I still didn't know what I was doing or where I was going. In theory, I was suppose to spend Monday cleaning my mess kit and planning my next moves. Instead, I spent the day watching 'Psych' on Netflix. Whoops. Hey, we all have our own ways of psyching ourselves up for what's next. (That pun was entirely unintended. Ha!) Perhaps I was inspired by Netflix, because I have decided to go to Fargo next. And I'm off!

Friday, September 11, 2015

Day 7, 8: Introducing Camping

Corn, anyone?
I left Chicago with a general goal of Cedar Rapids, Iowa. No particular reason, really, aside from it seemed a good midpoint between Chicago and my next destination of Minneapolis. In fact - full disclosure - I uploaded all of my previously written posts at a highway rest stop in Iowa who offered free WiFi. Which is to say this blog was set up and established adjacent to toilets (they were very specific about their hotspot).

I got to a town about an hour south of Cedar Rapids and decided I really needed to get a Verizon jetpack for wireless. Despite the surprisingly good service of Sprint's 3G in Iowa, I was becoming more and more aware that 1. I was heading into territory that Sprint would likely not cover and 2. I was very, very alone. After putting it off for about a month, I sucked it up and added $50 a month to my bills for the semi-security of an extremely limited amount of wireless data and was on my way to Cedar Rapids.

Using my camp app - and with the sun quickly setting to the left of me - I headed north in search of a campsite. As green as I am, I didn't occur to me that a campsite would be totally sold out. So after no spots appeared open at he first site, I had to drive another hour and hope for a spot at the second site. However, the first site armed me with the knowledge that campsites (in Iowa at least) post a board with envelops where you fill it out, put in your deposit, then take your receipt and tuck it in the post of the spot you claimed as yours. When I arrived at he second site there were plenty of spots open, but it took me about 20 minutes in the rain to figure out there green papers meant that the spot was reserved. I ended up pitching my tent next to the woods in the pitch black in spot number 13 - how lucky? It wasn't until the following morning when I woke up that I realized there were a slew of other camp spots 20 yards down the road - including tenting specific spots. Whoops.

It took me about 20 minutes to pitch my tent and another 10 to throw bags and my sleeping pad and blanket in there. The tent wasn't perfect but I DID THE THING!! IN THE DARK! IN THE RAIN!

I also took my stove and mess kit and made some Ramen - still not feeling well - that I had bought earlier in the day at a Save a Lot in western Illinois. It's taking some getting used to being stared at like an alien with four heads. I mean, I've gotten some looks before based on my hair (probably) but this is another level.

I cooked my Ramen under my fly because I was too afraid of the animals screaming in the forest behind me. (It may have not been entirely safe, but I made sure the fly didn't get hot enough to melt so that's something.) It was also unfortunate timing to remember I'm mildly afraid of the dark. At 4am I had to face both fears when I woke up freezing and, after realizing I couldn't just ignore that it was 57 degrees outside, had to put on my headlamp and fetch my sleeping bag out of the car 40 feet away. From there, I slept like a baby.

When I awoke, I got to see where I had come to in the dark. It's an interesting thing to see where you landed once you can see you've come to. What a beautiful surprise...

After a cup of tea and trying to reorganize my car for camping better, I took a shower. Lovely accommodations...although I can't complain much for $16 a night.

Here I learned my lesson of the day: Lavender soap beats sulfur water. After shower and a quick lunch, it was already 3pm and time to head for Minnesota. I'll be there for a few days with my cousin before I'm really on my own camping through September.