When Michael, Erica, and I left the Badlands, it felt a little like a banishment. It was violent and unplanned and I really didn’t know what I was going to do next. Though we’d not openly discussed it, I had this feeling that we’d all continue to camp together for a little bit and that kind of made me feel safe. It’s a weird thing being out on your own when you have to weather the elements. It’s not that I feel like I can’t do it, but having a few other people along to help out or offer support or whatever, just feels better. It’s kind of a “we’re all in this together” kind of thing.
We got into Rapid City, South Dakota at 8:30 in the morning. I’d already felt like I’d been up for hours and could use a nap. We found a Starbucks where we could get some coffee, a little pre-made breakfast, and, most importantly, free wifi. I also got the opportunity to wash my face, brush my teeth, and feel a little bit more human again in their bathroom. I spent the morning trying to find us a campground (shout out to www.hipcamp.com y’all), figuring out the weather situation, and taking care of some blog posting. Michael banged out some work and Erica helped me with campground discovery. By noonish, we’d secured a campground in Hot Springs, South Dakota (which, actually has no goddamn hot springs, by the way) and after grabbing a quick bite to eat, were on our way.
We arrived into Cheyenne Campground and found that we’d gotten maybe the best site in the campground. The Angostura Recreation Area (where the campground was located) sits on a lake and we, by chance, reserved the last spot available, overlooking a little cove that fed into the lake. There were tall pines, way less wind, and a buck across the way that greeted us upon arrival. After having such a shitty morning with the outdoors, I think it’s safe to say we were all put at ease after we settled into such a gorgeous place.
I put my car back together since it was a hot mess after throwing things in from the morning in a frantic fashion and then took a shower. A fucking shower y’all. This was the longest I’d gone so far - five, almost six days - and after getting beaten down by a hurricane force sand storm that morning, this was the sweetest reward. I washed my hair, exfoliated my skin with a wash cloth, shaved my legs, moisturized every inch of me - I basically felt like a woman again. I’m writing this in retrospect and since, I’ve had several more moments like this, but I have really come to be grateful for the chance to get clean. This is something I’ve taken for granted most of my life. When you live in a home and have a access to a place to bathe, it’s something that becomes part of your daily routine. And, up until this point, it was mostly part of mine, as well. I’d had a few stretches while camping at the beginning where I didn’t shower for a good bit of time. But, once I reached the West, knew less folks with whom to stay, and wanted to take advantage of all the amazing camping opportunities, being clean became a luxury. And it is something I’ve come to cherish. I’ll expand more as I go along with these Western posts, but this was the first shower that was the beginning of gratitude for warm, running water that flows over my head and the smell of my own freshly washed hair.
Our first night in Cheyenne Campground was cold. We made a fire and, goddamn, it was so nice to finally have a fire again. I’d camped for a few nights on my way to the Badlands, but hadn’t made fires because it was too warm and I kind of didn’t want to spend the money on firewood. So, this was the first fire I’d had in about a month and a half. When folks are around, the campfire is a gathering space. It’s a place where bourbon and beer is drunk, stories are told, and friendships are solidified. It’s a quiet place where you congregate for warmth and discuss life’s paths, shared beliefs, and where you really get to know your fellow campfiremates. By that point, I already knew that Erica and Michael would be friends for life, but sitting around a campfire with them those first couple of nights cemented it.
I went to sleep in my tent that night with a few layers on. We got cell reception at this campground, so when I woke up colder than I had been so far, I checked the weather to see the temperature. It was 43 degrees. I know it might sound weird, but it was kind of a victory - I thought to myself, “I could definitely do 10 degrees colder” and that solidified my ability to journey into the North (Wyoming and Montana) during late September and October. Originally, I’d decided to head into Wyoming and Montana after the Badlands and then swoop down into Colorado to meet my friends Susan and Ben in Pagosa Springs, Colorado over Labor Day weekend. Then, when things got kind of close, I realized that it seemed ridiculous to hang in Montana and drive a crazy number of miles out of my way to Southern Colorado. So, I thought I’d just be up in the Northern part of the West for an undetermined amount of time…until I heard about the smoke from the fires. Instagram clued me into the smoke pollution in Montana and that ended up changing my course. I decided instead to head into Colorado eventually and then make my way North from there. I was worried about the changing weather, though, and this night of a 43 degree low gave me a little more confidence in my decision.
I woke up a few hours before Michael and Erica did to the frigid air. After giving myself a pep-talk, I finally got out of my sleeping bag and headed to make coffee. As I was getting things situated, a car drove by on our little loop and I heard a scrambling of sorts. I looked up and saw a flock of pheasants just prancing around a couple hundred feet away. There must have been 20 of them and I just sat and watched for awhile. That morning light again, man, just touching over the hill and backlighting them as they walked around, eating whatever the hell pheasants eat. It made getting up in the cold worth it.
We had only talked about staying at this campground for a night. It was supposed to just be a place to take a hot shower, regroup, and figure out what was next. But, after we arrived at such a peaceful spot, we decided to make it a two night stay. We didn’t really do very much that day. There was a little exploring around the lake, a massive effort to collect firewood, some hammock hanging (Michael and Erica bought an ENO hammock before their trip that we hung between a few trees that overlooked the cove. I then purchased one a few weeks later - this was an incredibly powerful word-of-mouth marketing campaign), and a real serious afternoon nap. We also spent a good bit of time pouring over our atlases, trying to figure out the next spot. Since I wasn’t quite yet ready to head south to Colorado, I decided to check out Ayers Natural Bridge Park in Wyoming on the recommendation of my friends, Floyd and Shirley, from Marion, South Dakota. I was hoping Michael and Erica would join me and they decided to.
Cheyenne Campground was an incredible little respite and a great place to regroup. Having a little time to do not much of anything was welcomed. The idea of “taking days off” is kind of a difficult thing to reconcile. On one hand, I’m on this trip with limited time and funds, so I want to get the most out of it. There is SO much to see in this country and, though I’ll never be able to do it all in just six months, I’d like to be able to experience as much as I can. On the other hand, being on the go this much can really take it out of you. I am not trying to make this into a “oh woe is me, I am on an extended vacation and boo hoo, it’s just so hard” because, well I’m not dumb - that’s a ridiculous stance. But, regardless, a day or two here and there to do nothing helps to rejuvenate your mind and recharge you. It is very hard to actually make the conscious decision to take a few days off, though. So, when it just kind of happens, in retrospect, it is so very much appreciated. This was one of those instances where, essentially, the universe was telling me to just sit my ass down and be still for a bit. And, I listened.