Thursday, August 18, 2022

September 2

A night’s rest and minimal conversation did wonders for how Donna and I engaged each other the following morning. While communication is important in any relationship, I can tell you as a man who has made it through nearly three decades of marriage and said tons of stupid shit to his wife keeping your mouth shut and letting father time be your friend is often a good short-term solution. The underlying problem still needs to be addressed but if you use time to your advantage and not engage while upset you’re more likely find a lasting fix. Message me for more marriage tips.

All kidding aside we again talked about this whole van life thing being new and how we should expect some issues. Constant movement and sharing something like sixty-square-feet of living space will test even the strongest bond. We needed to do our best to be kind and understanding of the other person’s situation. The old Atticus Finch maxim—you don’t know shit unless you put yourself in another person’s shoes and see what they’re going through. Or something like that.

And it worked right out of the box. We skipped a trip to Custer State Park the previous day due some road weariness and an unfortunate run in with the #5 on the Hardees breakfast menu The Garmin GPS mapped what looked like some sketchy instructions. So, we pulled over and did some cross referencing with Google maps and refined our search to specifically where we wanted to go: The Custer State Park Visitor Center and the “Wildlife Loop” and presto Google Maps and the Garmin produced the same route.

We also had the good fortune to do this recalculation in front of The Rock Shop on Mt. Rushmore Road in Custer. Yes, Donna bought what was called a “wonder rock” which often used in landscaping called “rhyolite.” The South Dakota version she bought had a reddish tint and cost $8.

Across the street from the Rock Shop was this little nook take out place with a drive thru and a walk-up window called the Miner’s Cup. I thought maybe it was only a coffee place but they had an extensive menu. I ordered a burrito called the “Wild West,” which was loaded with eggs, sausage, caramelized onions, peppers, hash browns and shredded Jack cheese in a flour tortilla—beyond great. Donna ordered a Southwest Cowboy salad: chicken, avocado, corn, black beans etc. Also, beyond great. I know because I got to finish it. This was such a change from the Hardees grease fest of the previous day. If you’re in Custer hit this place up. It’s only open to till 1:30pm but it’s so good and the staff had great friendly hustle too.  

We made it the Custer State Park Visitor Center without further issue other than the constant vigilance it took to negotiate the ever-twisting Black Hills in the van. Other drivers gave us space and were tolerant when we weren’t always at or above the speed limit which was a nice change.

The Visitor Center at Custer was perfect. Unlike at Crazy Horse the focus was terse and to the point, concentrating primarily on the park’s Bison population with some sidebars about the other wildlife. The Bison information panels provided a wealth of Bison facts—what they eat, how fast they run, how they impact the ecosystem and a bouquet of other details. More essential was the information on how to stay safe when you encountered the thick hooved beasts, which apparently was a given.

But well into our ride, except for a couple of deer lounging in a field, we didn’t see much of anything. Still, it was nice on this hot clear day to lope along at 30mph looking at the beautiful Black Hills.

Just as we were thinking maybe this wasn’t our day to see wildlife, we came up on a line of vehicles on the side of the road and some multi-colored wild donkeys. Well, they weren’t exactly wild as people were getting out their cars and petting them. One little girl being held in her father’s arms had a gray one in a serious headlock. The donkey stood there placidly with what looked like a dumb little grin on its face as it was it was being mauled by the girl. The donkey’s lack of agency and self-respect while it while it stood there smiling in the little girl’s headlock made me think that’s how they came to be known as “jackasses.” Donna didn’t want to contribute to further jackass subjection, and we continued on.

A few miles up there was a much longer line of stopped vehicles as a herd of at least a couple hundred Bisons occupied fields on both sides of the road. They were munching on the sagey grass and wading in a little stream barely seeming to notice the delighted tourists hanging out of their vehicles photographing and filming them. When one of them wanted to cross the road, they made their intention clear by hesitating at the edge of the pavement and turning their heads in the direction of the driver as if they were making eye contact. The only thing that seemed to spook them was when a couple of impatient Ninjas on Kawasaki’s or whatever Ninjas ride these days, had enough of the Bison gawking and revved their engines and pulled out between the two-rows of cars California style and proceeded onward. About a half-dozen or so Bisons moved nimbly away from the road. Otherwise, they were chill.

I must admit, while neither Donna or I hung our heads out the van windows, but it was pretty cool to be surrounded by the herd and almost be in their midst. It was probably even cooler for the less impatient non-Ninjas motorcyclist to be among the them since they weren’t separated from the herd by a big tin box like us. In fact, they were actually a little too in their midst for our comfort but there wasn’t an incident of any kind. The Bisons probably had been habitualized to the motorcycles and stayed in their lane—literally.

As we transitioned out of the thick of the herd over in the distance there was playful game of chase occurring among maybe a dozen of the Bisons. It was notable how shifty and quick they were for such big animals. There would be a giant burst of energy as they darted back and forth and then a momentary pause before exploding again. It was quite impressive.

As traffic opened up a bit there one car with New Jersey plates looking at the same frolicking Bisons as us, but they had come to a full stop in the middle of the road and were totally unaware that traffic was moving. It was moving slowly but moving. It’s always someone from Jersey, isn’t it?

Our successful trip to Custer State Park had burned up half the day. We were now headed to the Baymont Wyndham Hotel Keystone for the night. This was a little backtracking but given it was the holiday weekend it was hard to find a hotel at a reasonable rate.

Why a hotel? The Kane Invitational Fantasy Football draft was that night and given all the spotty internet connections we were encountering I didn’t want to leave anything to chance. Though I had finished in 11th place last year I was the biggest shit talker in this league that was composed of my brothers, nephews and my niece Conor. I couldn’t let my self be subjected to the ridicule that came with auto-drafting—letting the computer make your picks.

Donna was initially against this, but the enticement of a long hot shower and a bed all to herself won her over. We arrived about a hour before check-in time so we decided to do a load of laundry at the Keystone mini-mart/gas station/ laundromat. Waiting on our clothes to dry I almost beat Donna in my first ever game of Scrabble.

We ordered a small taco pizza and a couple of salads from Boss’s Pizza & Chicken on the main drag in Keystone. I had to park down around the corner at a Ramada Inn and walk like two blocks past endless t-shirt shops and bars playing shitty nu-country music. Note to nu-country hit makers—life does happen in other places than a pick-up truck with a Busch lite.

The pizza was unexpectedly good as were the salads. I’m kind of thick crusted cupped pepperoni Buffalo pizza snob and hardly expected to find a good taco pie in Keystone, South Dakota. But there it was.

According to Yahoo I crushed my draft. They rated it A-. I’m not so sure it was that good since I reached for Joe Burrow and the Bills defense early. My nephew Jack, who is like a fantasy savant, foiled my plan by taking Mark Andrews a few picks ahead of me and forced some improvisation. If trends hold Jack will go 11-2 again this year and then lose in the championship game. Being the shit talker of the league, I’ll give him the business about having the best team that never wins it all—the Toronto Maple Leafs of the Kane Invitational. Incidentally, in the six or so years we’ve been playing I’m a two-time champ.

How we got here...
An Ode to Fire and Donna
Chronological Posts From The Road 
Going Mobile: What We Learned
Our Rig: A Pictorial Essay