I need to begin this post with the evening before. First, let me say that the distance between the North and South Units of Teddy Roosevelt is a long and harrowing drive along Highway 85. On Day 11, I had driven from my beautiful campsite under the old cottonwood tree in the North Unit, down to the South Unit 68 miles away to see what there was to be seen there. The scenery was stunning in both units, and I am glad I went, but the ride back to my campsite had me white-knuckling it and praying to a higher power I would survive the trip.
Highway 85 runs up and down the Dakota territories, and connects farming communities, cattle ranches, and more recently, oil and gas drilling rigs. Since farming is hard in these parts (just ask any ND farmer who grows soybeans and now can’t sell to China – thank you, Trump!) and so many have started to sell off or rent portions of their land to oil and gas companies who frack and drill and destroy what little pure water is left here. It is a sad sight, but as one Minnesotan pointed out to me “well, you are DRIVING to see the USA, aren’t ya?” True that. Apologies.
Anyway, the highway is a two lane road sporting a speed limit of 65, which no one does unless they are tourists. The truckers hauling oil, gas, and soy beans roar up this narrow road doing an average of 80 MPH and when they pass you, your car shakes and shimmies almost off the road. You must be alert and have a steady grip.
So, coming back from Medora on Saturday night after one IPA and half a pizza, I was hoping it wouldn’t be so bad, but it was worse. The road runs along the top, the plains, and the weather up there is completely different from the valleys created by thousands of years of erosion. Up on the road, the fog had settled down and with the darkening skies, it became hazardous. But I popped in some peppermint gum and gritted my teeth and somehow made it back down to the campsite.
Relieved I had made it safely home, I turned down the winding road inside the park only to run smack-dab into two big bull buffalo walking home in the light drizzle. Thankfully, I was going only 20 MPH, so I had plenty of time to slow down and appreciate the size of these big fellas as they lumbered across the roadway.
Back at camp, I checked on my tent (wet on the fly, dry inside!) and then got a well-deserved glass of wine and headed over to my neighbor’s camper for some company.
Arlyss is an amazing woman. She recently sold her ND home to her younger son (one of six children) and purchased a sweet Class C rig in which she now lives and travels in around the country to see her family and friends. It was a welcome refuge after my journey, and Arlyss took me in and listened to my story with compassion. After about an hour of talking travel, kids, life, I looked at her and asked “you aren’t a Sagittarian by any chance?” to which she laughed “does it show that much?” Why of course she was! Born on Dec. 19. I on the 17th. No wonder we got along so well. We high-fived and had a good chuckle.
I was sorry to leave this little campsite the next morning, but I got up, de-camped and headed out. The weather was still cold and raw and spritzing, but soon it cleared up, the further south I travelled on 85. By the time I crossed into South Dakota, it was beautiful and in the 70’s.
The highway still was scary, but not as bad with the brightening sky. I tuned into Prairie Public Road and listened to the Prairie Home Companion while driving thru the prairie. Just one more example of synchronicity. There have been many on this trip! (That’s another post.)
I pulled over a couple of times to take photos of the grasslands and buttes, and once I saw a couple of hunters pull over, jump out with guns and run off into the grass in pursuit of an elk or buckhorn. No, we’re not in Kansas anymore.
All over the north country, road crews are busy trying to re-pave these roadways before the winter sets in, so it wasn’t too much of a surprise to find myself clunking along 20 miles of unpaved road. But it was surprising how people didn’t slow down. Trying to keep up with the 60-65 MPH average and not piss off the trucker behind me, I gunned my little car along the ground-up surface. But when I got back onto smooth pavement, I noticed a clunking sound from one of my tires and had to pull over for inspection. I couldn’t see any major issue so I chalked it up to a rock and plowed onwards. Eventually, the noise dissipated, but unfortunately, my sciatica started to flare up as if to replace one annoyance with another.
Now, I have rarely suffered from this but, do know a nerve pain when I feel it. I popped an Aleve and hoped it would go away but unfortunately, no. This morning it is even worse, and I can barely sit. With 6 weeks of driving ahead of me, I am starting to wonder if I put this cross country road trip too long! Not even (and maybe because?) the sit in the motel’s hot tub helped. But I just have to push thru the pain at this point. Nothing much else I can do. Ice and stretching only go so far.
But my day ended with a quick trip into Deadwood, SD where I was delighted by the Wild Bill Hickok tour at Saloon No. 10 and then followed that up with a sirloin burger and a beer at the Nugget. Watched the Pats flail on one of the many TVs, where tourists from all over the country turned to different screens displaying their local teams, then it was off through the Black Hills to Keystone, SD where I checked into the Quality Inn for a much-needed shower and real bed.
But despite the babying of the nerve, this morning it was even worse. Sigh. But I’ll be fine. Limp along the west like a broke-down horse on the prairie.
Next stop: Mt. Rushmore.