It’s the time of year we all look forward to – our annual Mother-Daughter Labor Day trip! This is our 5th Labor Day excursion. We always pick somewhere new to go. Since flying was looking a bit pricey this year, we picked a destination that was drivable, and a state to which neither of us had been: South Dakota. We refer to this trip as the Lobe, since last year’s 14-state driving extravaganza was called the EAR (or Excellent Adventure Roadtrip). This, since it’s only 3 days and 4 states, is the Lobe.
As is customary, it’s always an experience travelling with me. I wound up leaving an hour later than I had hoped from work, and on our way out of Denver, l looked out my window and saw a dead hawk under a bridge. I took it as a bad omen initially, but Kelsea told me some Greek mythological fact about hawks that cheered me up. (This was to be the first of our semi-significant animal experiences for the afternoon.)
As we got through the Burbs, we encountered an amazing full rainbow that went double and triple on us from time to time in between cloudbursts. Kelsea was the photographer for this blog, as I was driving, and strangely enough, she kept snatching the camera from my hands when I attempted to take a picture while driving 80 mph. Go figure!
We drove alongside the rainbow for around 20 minutes. I’ve never seen one last that long before. We did our own impression of “Double Rainbow Man” and considered it a good omen.
We exchanged snappy dialogue:
Me: So do you have any classes with such-and-so?
Me: You have nun class together? Are you studying good habits?
Her: What? Uhhh… [groan]
Actually we talked constantly – it was a feast of reason and a flow of soul.
Colorado whipped past and we lamented the closing of the Sweetsville Zoo. How could it have closed? There was no guide and no admission. And they couldn’t have just gotten rid of all those giant sculptures. I mean, there was a tugboat in there, for Pete’s sake.
The tradition of the Corn Slap was reinstated as we passed by numerous cornfields in full tassle. This, if you are unaware of it, is like Slug Bug, except you get to slap the back of the person’s head if you are the first to see a cornfield. (It was a painful trip through Kansas last summer.)
Wyoming greeted us with its standing buffalo silhouette on the bluff, and a ton of fireworks stores. We realized that we hadn’t stopped on the EAR and taken each other’s picture at the Welcome To [Insert State Here] sign upon arrival in each state, but there would be no time like the present to do so, so we were planning on doing it this trip.
Of course, the first live animal we saw was camels. Yes, camels. Four of them. Apparently they are trying to fool the camels into thinking we’re in the desert, which we’re totally not, although your local horticultural school will tell you that this is high desert.
Still I had never seen camels in any semblance of the wild, so I was trying to turn my head around backwards, Linda-Blair style, to see them. Not what you do while driving 80 miles an hour. But then I think I did a lot of things I shouldn’t have done while driving 80 mile an hour.
This incident did, however, help set the tone for some of our music selections during the drive. Not that we were listening to Bedouin karaoke, but since our tastes are somewhat divergent, we take turns with playing our respective iPods. She gets a couple of hours, and then I get a couple of hours. Kelsea is very considerate about what we play – she’ll check with me to be sure a song is something I enjoy, inform me if one is really inappropriate (ahem, then why do you have it on your iPod? Oh right, because you’re 14), and skip over the heavy metal ones for me. I do the same for her when my turn rolls around, since she loathes country music with a bloated passion. With a few song exceptions, and those are the ones I love, that I MUST listen to. So now, when those songs would come on, and she’d groan, my most appropriate (in my opinion) response was:
“Don’t complain. You saw camels.”
We also saw a herd of buffalo, which was new for her. And we saw buttes.
Isn’t it a beauty? (Get it? Get it?)
Being somewhat directionally challenged (even though to get to South Dakota from Denver, you basically head north and turn right), I had not only programmed Daniel, the Garmin, with driving directions, but had also printed out a set from Google maps. The problem was that these two set of directions were slightly divergent. Not greatly, but about 30 miles worth of divergent.
As we were zipping along, I had a choice to make as to which set of directions to follow. Well, the sun was, while not still high in the sky, at least still in the sky, so I opted for the slightly shorter route. As soon as we took the exit, I had a feeling I had chosen unwisely, as we went from a six lane interstate to a two lane road. But it was straight and fairly empty and nearly as fast as the highway and there were rock formations, and it felt like an adventure, so we were happy.
Drive, drive, drive. Pass the town of Chugwater, much touted in signage but leaving something to be desired in person, although it was in a geologic basin surrounded by flat top cliffs, with white sandstone rocks and tempting caves creeping up the sides. Kelsea was in mid-sentence when she stopped in awe and said how she could envision Indians in this particular spot, long before Chugwater chili came into existence.
Just past Chugwater, Daniel was a little unclear as to his directions, and so we turned around and took the Google directions, which Daniel wound up agreeing with. It was only about 5 miles to Hartville, where we would get on another road for a long stretch.
Hartville was a sketch in time and an oasis in the Wyoming landscape, built in a hollow with lush trees by a creek, with 76 residents, all of whom were just winding up a little BBQ in the tiny grassy park, and all of whom looked at us as we drove by.
I ignored the sign saying “No Outlet”, assuming it meant that at one point there was No Outlet, but surely not that there was NO Outlet. We curved up a hill, around a bend, past another No Outlet sign on a little fork road. Then we were met with a Road Closed sign, and Kelsea, wise woman that she is, said, “I think the road is closed.” Being me, I said, “Of course not.” We encountered yet another Road Closed sign, and she said, “I think so.” She’s always been a bit of a backseat driver, so I kept a steady course. The next sign said “Road Closed 1000 feet,” and my daughter said, “Mom, there have been five signs. What is it going to take for you to believe them?” I guess it took me running up against the closed road. Because I did. And then I believed them. But I did not believe Google maps anymore.
We backtracked, waving at the townsfolk, who looked at us if they wanted to BBQ us, and got back to the safety and comfort of our little two-lane highway.
Many relationships, over time, run their course, and so it was this trip. Daniel, the Garmin, and I were having problems. I had started to feel like he was mocking me in his snooty British accent when I didn’t listen to him. He would revert to “Please drive the highlighted route” which of course I can’t see when I’m driving because I wasn’t supposed to look at him when I’m driving – that just felt like he was being sullen and pouty. He would “lose satellite connection” when he was annoyed with me because I was lost. Or he would start saying the ever infuriating “Recalculating” when he was insistent that I make a U-Turn even though I was on a perfectly good road, just not the one HE chose for me. No flexibility. No compromise. I had had enough. It was time for us to break up.
Kelsea chose a new Garmin beau for me – Lee. Lee is Australian. His voice is soothing, not superiorly irritating. He makes me feel like he’s winking at me when I screw up, and he’s just along for a fun ride. So G’Day, Lee. He made me feel much better about being navigationally challenged. And it was remarkably easy to stop saying “Daniel” and start saying “Lee”.
Kelsea was in, as she put it, the best mood she’d been in for months, wanting to take pictures, enjoying the trip, the beauty of wooly Wyoming. There was a gorgeous sunset behind us, and the sky morphed into blackest night, peppered with stars, and a peach-colored sliver of a setting moon.
It was open range, so I was a little edgy driving 80-85, but there were no speed limit signs. We decided that the speed limit was “As fast as you can go without dying”. I will come back and post that sign myself.
Kelsea was hungry and there was nothing to be seen – and I mean nothing – as far as places to eat – or places to do anything – or just places – went. She considered killing and eating an antelope, and we then experienced that awkward moment that comes when you suggest eating your Mother’s shamanic power animal.
As we were driving along, taking a slight hill, something dashed across the road in front of the truck, causing me enough panic to swerve slightly. Too small to be an antelope, too big to be a rabbit, I thought it had horns, I thought it had fur, I thought it had wings, it was a tan the color of the earth. I had nearly hit a jackalope – or perhaps a chupacabra. Either might have made delicious roadkill.
Finally arriving at the crossroads that is Lusk, Wyoming, we got gas, semi-edible crap (I finally tried pork rinds, because I never had, and all I can say is DON’T and don’t ever let me do so again), and a tip to visit the Keystone Taffy-Pulling Shop outside of our destination, all at Tye’s One-Stop. Lusk was a nice little town, with a Friday night high school football game in progress. Kelsea wanted to stop to watch, but it was so late already that I had to veto the suggestion.
We still had 200 miles of darkness to go before reaching Rapid City.
Cellphone service was gone. We would pass through pockets of hills and trees, enchanting in the darkness, except for the occasional giant wildlife carcass that would startle and disturb the straight line of the road. There was some commotion in our truck when a car ahead of us was pulled off the side of the road, lights bright. I thought it was an officer who might disagree with me on the unposted speed limit. We discovered it was someone who shared our brilliant idea of having their picture taken by every “Welcome to [insert state here]” sign.
We drove into the direction of the most amazing lightning storm. No thunder, but lightning illuminated the cumulus clouds and the entire horizon in an eerie “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” sort of way, which, given Kelsea’s recent UFO sighting, gave me pause. It would flash out from under the clouds, like a shutter opening and closing on a bright lantern, the light spilling out flat through the darkness.
Kelsea fell asleep (what greater sense of comfort and security than to fall asleep in a car while your parent is driving, even if the parent driving is me?), and I played country music to my heart’s content while wending into Rapid City. It was close on midnight, and I was trusting that the Holiday Inn hadn’t given away my reservation. Kelsea had programmed the address into Lee earlier, so I was relieved when he directed me specifically to our destination. However, our destination wound up being a vacant lot off the main drag and behind a warehouse, with a deviant looking character sitting in the dark grass beside it. Had my daughter programmed my destination to be a clandestine drug deal two states distant? I didn’t stick around to find out. But I did wake her up to show her that she too is somewhat navigationally impaired.
We waved to the drug dealer and retraced our GPS steps to find the charming Holiday Inn Mount Rushmore. The front desk woman was as welcoming as a corn husk, but after careful observation, I saw a little flyer that she’d been looking at with the cover “In loving memory of Steven” on the desk. And a plaque on the wall that identified said Steven as the owner of the Holiday Inn. So I silently forgave her her prickliness and her way-too-intense false eyelashes.
With an indoor atrium, waterfall, and glass elevator with freaky mirrored ceiling, we were satisfied with our surroundings. Our room is right outside the elevator door, but it was quiet last night. The sheets are soft, the beds are cushy and there are more pillows than we know what to do with. It’s a beautiful day in a new state.
Kelsea woke up once to plug in her phone and her backpack got her into a nearly unbreakable ju-jitsu hold so she went back to sleep, as is evidenced by the lump shown below:
Time to poke the lump and start the day.