Blessedly the travel from DC to Denver was uneventful: easy flights and a squeeze who was willing to be a pack mule. We almost died in the taxi going to our rental car (I am exaggerating… slightly), but got our car and set out for provisions. Target took 2 hours – 2 HOURS even with a list, then a VERY late lunch and on the road out of Denver about 5. All predictions were that the trip would take 7.5 hours to the Badlands, and those were correct. 12:30 AM we rolled up at the motel-ly thing where we are staying. I wish that the trip itself had been more fully described. I think Chris and I might have chosen the 8.5 or even 12-hour version over the one we got.
Everything was fine, until the GPS, which had no CLUE where we were staying, but kept working no matter how far into the boonies we went, had a difference of opinion with phone-operated Googlemaps, which knew our lodgings by name, but struggled mightily to communicate with us as we traveled through towns like Gurley, SD, Population: 3,452.
We went with Google, positing that GPS could be leading us to the complete other side of the Badlands, and I think we were likely right about that. Problem is: Google has NO moral or ethical concerns with placing you on crazy gravel roads in the middle of nowhere without mentioning, “Hey, in about a quarter mile, Allen Road is going to suddenly end its paved portion and carry you on a harrowing ride through a couple dozen miles of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. You will be mooned by a deer, and a random stranger will appear at the side of the road with his thumb out, while Chris drives on a dark, completely unfamiliar road in the middle of the night.” Had the helpful little voice told me all of that at the outset, I would have made a new, radically different plan.
Did I mention there was a thunderstorm? I didn’t? Well, there was one, and it was MASSIVE. We saw spectacular lightening strikes from northern Colorado, all the way through Nebraska and to our motel room door. We encountered very little rain, that is until about a mile from our destination, when the heavens proceeded to open and kept dumping on us, while Chris got the key from the late check-in box, wandered around the building searching for the tiny room number on our door and schlepped in all our luggage. I need to say for the record, he is a good egg: an exceptionally good one, in fact.
There’s not a lot that needs to be said about most travel. Airports are the same. Flights are the same.
One thing that can be said with pure joy and a little terror is that this is an adventure. Plans will go awry. Places won’t exist in GPS or Google even when we’re parked there. And plans will change. No plan survives completely intact when contact is made with the real ground. But we have time, energy, and the flexibility needed to do this.
A side note: this trip was pieced together over a year of planning by Jenn. Spreadsheets and maps and motel reservations and Yelped restaurants and shopping lists to avoid much restaurant food — that’s all Jenn. I had plenty of input, but she did the lifting.
Lightening began on The Plains, orange distant fuzzy flashes. Drops of rain patterned from clear skies, a Big Land phenomenon. Then the lightnening brightened and took its more usual jagged shape in Nebraska, silver in the night sky and unpolluted by the lights of local metropolises. Rain became denser. Between rain and bug splatter I had to clean the windshield twice at gas stations.
Into South Dakota. The roads started leading us higher, and then we entered the Pine Ridge Reservation…. And then the road turned to gravel.
I’m not used to the plight of Native Americans. I’ve met many who are, who talk about the demoralization of whole tribes, of substance abuse and obesity and depression. Even the night couldn’t hide the bleak poverty of Pine Ridge. The shanty houses, wrecked cars in driveways, trailers looking twisted from settling unevenly over years.
I do know a few things about poverty. I don’t come from wealthy stock. But in the time that I’ve lived in trailers and older homes, nothing I’ve seen since riding through Tennessee in the 1960s matched Pine Ridge. Res folk have been described to me as a group in which many feel no hope, no future.
Living like shit makes you feel like shit, and we have generations that have lived like shit. While we fret about Syrian factions, Israeli-Palestinian conflict and a divided Korea, I wonder about the balls it takes for us to tell people how they should deal with their age-old antagonisms. We still have two major groups living in helplessness in great part: those from whom we took everything to include their country, and those we took from their country.
On the other hand I have no answers. The older I get the more it seems like answers make things worse.
After many hours of driving we arrived at the Badlands Inn, the land of no signal, a desert with more water than Internet and cell phone signal.
I have no pictures from Day 1. It was a day of airports and night driving. There will be more later.
When we can find damn wifi.