When I awoke parked on the street near the Flying J, I noticed that there was a car behind me and that it contained a couple of twenty-something guys who were sleeping. I didn’t actually get a close enough view of them to discern their age, but that was my inference. Here’s the lovely view that I awoke to.
I headed down the the Flying J to acquire a Diet Coke and deposit the food that I had been digesting. While I was there, I remembered a story from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance about going to a welder to have a part repaired. I needed to get my broken lock cut off the front of Walden so that I could again use my bicycle. I had been considering buying bolt cutters, which seemed a bit silly. It occurred to me that the truck repair place that I’d parked in front probably had a pair of bolt cutters.
The young man at the truck repair place said that I could borrow some bolt cutters. I followed him to a tool chest, where he handed them to me, adding that they had never been used. I hadn’t taken ten steps when he asked if it would be OK if he cut the lock off. Cutting a lock off is a pretty fun thing to do, and it was a joy that I didn’t want to take from him. He cut the lock off and I have him a five, which added to his pleasure. I was going to find my way back to the Home Depot that I’d visited the day before, but realized that the Flying J’s probably had locks. More expensive, perhaps, but that bird-in-the-hand thing has great value.
I’m sure that locals would call the drive through miles and miles of grassy ranches deathly boring, but having seen relatively little land that looks like that, it was pretty interesting. For example, I saw a herd of old tires.
I stopped a couple times to photograph old buildings, once even opening a gate to get a closer picture (which wasn’t that interesting), but I did see an old shoe.
Another time I stopped because a calf had somehow gotten out of the fence. A cow who appeared to be the calf’s mother was mooing in a way that implied distress, to me anyway. I offered to let the calf into the fence to rejoin its mother, but in spite of the vast wealth of knowledge I gained at Cheyenne Frontier Days, I couldn’t figure out how to explain to the calf that if only he would come, I’d open the gate. In spite of my calling it in mellifluous tones, the damn thing ran away from me, far enough away that I just had to apologize to him and his frantic mother, get back in the car, and move on down the road. A couple miles later, I saw a cowboy in a pickup truck, on the other side of the highway, about 30 yards from the fence. I considered trying to explain to him that the calf was escaped, but couldn’t figure out just how that conversation would go.
Google said that it would take something like 4.5 hours to make it to Mt. Rushmore. It first thought that I’d make it there before 1:30. It was after two when I pulled into the Jewel Cave visitors center, about 30 miles from Mt. Rushmore. It was really hot on the highway. At one point my outside thermometer, which is about a foot off the highway and I have little faith in, said that it was 110F. At that point the interior thermometer, said something like 100. It was warm, but not really unpleasant, certainly nothing like a 90F day in Knoxville.
I stopped at the ticket booth, but the day’s tours were all sold out. I went on down to the visitors center, hoping to get some map that would give me an idea of where I might be able to park. I did get a couple maps and a few ideas.
As I was walking in to the visitors center there was a ranger talking about birds of prey. She had an owl that had somehow had its wing cut off. I stopped to check it out. Later there was another talk about forest fires. It drew a considerably smaller crowd, by a factor of at least five. I bet if they’d had real forest fires rather than just sticks and straw, people would have been more interested.
I had forgotten how much I like caves, or maybe I didn’t know. Jewel Cave is the largest or second largest cave in the world, or something. The little touristy tour that I went on is something like half a mile. Apparently there are something like five hundred miles of that cave to explore. There’s one cavernous room that’s apparently several acres, big enough that they set up tents and use it as a base camp for further exploration. It sounds pretty fantastic.
Back when I was recently divorced I had an awakening that was not exactly spiritual. Consequently, I had a list of things that I wanted to do. I’ve pretty much given up on that list now, largely because whatever items might still be on that list seem unlikely to be checked off (e.g., “with a cowgirl”). If I still had that list, though, I think I’d be adding “in a cave” to the list. There’s another cave in the area. I think I may have to check it out tomorrow.
It was darn near 6PM when I left Jewel Cave. I certainly wasn’t going
to Rushmore. I was starting to have that I-hate-finding-a-place-to-park-especially-so-late-in-the-day feeling. Even though I’m now pretty good at finding places to park in forests and city streets, it can still be pretty overwhelming. I cruised on down the road and took a couple trips down what appeared to be National Forest roads that I hoped might yield places to stay, but neither looked promising. I thought that I might end up driving into Custer (less than ten more miles) and getting a hotel room, but it seemed like a waste, even though I’d seen signs that promised rooms for $50.
Just as I was about to give up, I stumbled on a fee-required campground, did a drive-through and decided I’d take place 33. Just about that time I drove upon the “host family,” a retired couple in a big-ass RV who stays at the campground for free in exchange for taking care of the place and collecting money and such. He asked if he could help me. I told him I’d take 33 and he told me to come fill out the paperwork in a way that didn’t seem too friendly. I filled out the necessary paperwork and wrote a check for $15. He warmed up considerably and I managed to get him to make suggestions about what to do. He plied me with maps and said that Rushmore was only 25 miles away and that they had some laser show at night. I realized that he was suggesting that I drive on over there tonight before going to bed. I hadn’t explained it to him, but the astute reader will notice that I’d just driven from Cheyenne and was really, really ready to stop driving.
I hadn’t bathed since leaving the thermal pools of Saratoga, and the two nights and three days since then made me feel like it might be nice to apply water to my body. The solar shower still had a couple of gallons in it and though it hadn’t been in direct sunlight, it had been miserably hot that say, so the water was quite warm enough for a pleasant shower. I rigged up a little enclosure using some poles from the “carport” and a small blue tarp. It felt a little public and the tarp stuck to my body a couple times, but I managed to wash my parts nonetheless. It felt good. Alas, I disassembled the contrivance without photographic documentation for your enjoyment.
After seeing the “eggs and Tabasco” rocks in the cave, I thought I might fry some eggs, but I ended up eating some sardines with Grey Poupon, onion, and hot sauce on crackers. I love me some tinned fish. While I ate, and for a while after, I listened to Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. At a chapter’s end, I decided to play guitar on the picnic table’s bench for a while. I didn’t notice at first, but a toddler at campsite 34 seemed interested in my music, and perhaps his parents were too, but I couldn’t figure out how and whether to respond. Later, his mother walked by to fill their solar shower. Apparently women carrying water is a long-held tradition the world around, and continues to this day. I quipped that I didn’t think the moonlight would heat it up. She responded that they were going to boil some water and that it wasn’t their first camping trip. Her tone wasn’t unfriendly, but she also didn’t say “Hey, love the guitar playing, why don’t you come sit by our fire.”
As darkness approached, I put away the guitar, wrote most of what you just read, and probably watched part of a movie.