LA/XC DAYS EIGHTEEN, NINETEEN, AND TWENTY: ROCK SPRINGS (WYOMING) TO DENVER; DENVER TO BADLANDS; BADLANDS TO MISSOURI VALLEY (IOWA)
• Three-day mileage: 1,318
• Total LA/XC mileage: 6,359
• Road Music: Sunday — NFL Radio; Monday — iPod malfunction (again!); listened to pretty much every music station on XM radio; Tuesday — iPod back from the dead: Adele, Wynona Judd; Billy Joel
• Three-day state tally: 4 (Wyoming, Colorado, South Dakota, Iowa)
• New states for Beagle Man: 2 (South Dakota, Iowa)
The stars in the sky above Badlands, South Dakota were ridiculously bright, and it’s a damn good thing — because there wasn’t a street light, a road sign, or anything relating to civilization — to be found.
Though Ms. Garmin was insisting “you’ve arrived at your destination,” there was no structure whatsoever that I could see — only other-worldly ravines and canyons and spires and gullies. This was my third Garmin-related screw-up, but, to be fair, the first two were my bad: I fed her the wrong street address for both Amarillo and Elko. But this one was all on Lady Garmin.
I back-tracked to some lights I could see in the distance, which turned out to be the town of Interior, population 67, and home of the Horseshoe Bar, where I’d “dined” earlier in the evening. Walking into that cowboy saloon — guys in Stetsons, teenagers shooting pool, everybody knowing everyone’s name — the first time was a scene straight out of Seinfeld: All conversation stopped and everyone
swiveled on their bar stools to have a look at the dude from Connecticut. I tried my best to blend in — ordered a Bud Light, which is what everyone was drinking, and quietly watched Monday Night Football while waiting for my pizza.
When I came in the second time, again everyone swiveled, and a lady at the bar announced, “He’s back!” (Guess I hadn’t blended in that well.) I asked if anyone had any idea where the Cedar Pass Lodge was, and that same lady said, “Don’t ask me, Sweetie, I’m not from these parts; I’m from way over thataway.” From the sweep of her arm, I thought she meant the west coast, maybe L.A., but no — she was from Rapid City, SD, all of 70 miles away, and from the look of things, as far as anyone in this crowd had ever been from Interior.
It was actually Greg, the classic taciturn bartender with the heart of gold, to the rescue. “—- Garmin,” he said, “and —- the road signs, they’re all screwed up. Just listen to me, and you’ll be fine.” I did, and I was. And so Ricky and I didn’t have to spend the night in the car in the shadow of the mesas and the buttes, but were cozy and comfy in our cabin at Cedar Pass Lodge.
Now, to back up just a bit: My alarm clock — Ricky — woke me Sunday morning in Rock Springs at 6 AM. A pot-bellied trucker,
who was having a smoke (seems to be the national pastime in these parts) behind the motel, seeing Ricky sniffing at everything from Snickers wrappers to clods of dirt, actually said to me, “You know my sister had a dog named Hunter. Only thing he ever hunted was a cool spot in the shade.” Gosh, you think he made that up?
Was heading to Denver (actually, Parker CO) that morning to see Kristen, daughter of my friends Lang and Marilyn, and one of my big faves in the “next” generation. Actually, our reunion got delayed for a
couple of hours: First, Kristen and her husband Dave had some family obligations, and when they were clear, I was already ensconced at Funuguys, a sports bar, watching my Jets stinking it up and gift-wrapping one for the Raiders.
When I finally made it over to the house, it was like one, big, happy family: Kristen and Dave; the two kids, Ingrid (6) and Lincoln (4); the two dogs, Hunter and Mater; the three cats (sorry — forgot their names; I’m not quite as tuned in to cats); Beagle Man, and Ricky. Had a delish steak dinner (“snake,” as the kids call it) cooked by Dave, and then the whole gang, dogs included, took a long walk around the ‘hood. All would have been perfect, had it not been for Ricky’s obsession with sniffing Mater’s butt. Even when Mater
would pivot, bare his teeth, and snarl, Ricky wouldn’t give it up. The same thing happened a few years ago when we visited Lang and Marilyn, and Ricky tortured poor Brodie endlessly. I can just imagine a phone conversation between Mater and Brodie: “Man, were you ever right about that annoying little beagle from Connecticut!”
Monday morning it was Denver to Mount Rushmore (S. Dakota), the first of the “majors” (Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, the Big Sur drive) to underwhelm me. Don’t get me wrong; the thing is spectacular, of course! I’m just measuring my actual reactions to these attractions against my expectations, and I think my expectations were way too high for Mount Rushmore. Then again, had I seen the evening “lighting” ceremony, I might have been bowled over: A guy I was talking to at Badlands all but called me an idiot for going to Mount Rushmore and not sticking around for the nightly illumination. Oh, well. Next time.
I loved Badlands, by the way, which I toured this morning. Outlandish, surreal terrain set against a bluer-than-blue cloudless sky. And I pretty much had the whole place to myself. (In case you were wondering, Ricky was as impressed by Badlands as he was by the Grand Canyon: i.e., he slept through the whole thing.)
So now we find ourselves at the very spiffy Oak Tree Inn in Missouri Valley, Iowa, with privileges at Penny’s Diner, a brightly lit, aluminum-sided throwback. I went in with my $7.50 motel discount, had a salad, a Coke, and a Philly cheesesteak — and only owed 26 cents.
And now . . . just two more days. Just one more night in a motel. Less than 1,300 miles. Ricky and I are starting to be able to smell the barn.