kyrie eleison down the road that i must travel

July 8, 2006

Day 8. 91 miles.

So I started to tell you about Mr. Florida who gave us his leftover cooler detritus last night. He was adorable and hilarious, and the type of guy you’d want to talk to at every party ... for about 10 minutes before he wore you out, and then you’d have to fake a nosebleed to get away. He had some very interesting things to say. Which is good, since he had no apparent interest in our stories. He’s a self-proclaimed “critter guy.” Loves the critters, and he and his 11-y.o. son seek them critters out. “Have y’all been to Custer State Park?” he asks. “Naw,” we respond with vague un-enthusiasm, as we give each other ‘that look.’ (We don’t care about STATE PARKS. STATE PARKS are lame. How great can it be if our fine institution of a Wash, DC govt. hasn’t seen fit to endorse it?) Well, he goes on and on about it. “Pronghorn sheep coming out your ears!” “You can see bison brushing their teeth!” So we thanked him, assured him that we’ll check it out, and then faked a nosebleed and left with, like, 83 extra hotdogs from his cooler.

So this morning, we’re a bit ... well, delicate from the previous night. Shoogs is already up, walking it off. And as I’m rolling over for the last time, on the way to deciding to poke my bleary head out of the tent, I hear someone run by and have a brief conversation with Shoogie. “Hey!” “Hey – how’s it going?” “Good! See ya – have a great trip!” Turns out that Mr. Florida is a jogger. Of course he is – his wife probably makes him do it to burn off excess energy. So we chuckle about that (gently, because our heads hurt) and go for another all-you-can-eat pancake brekkie. We’re regulars now, so we’re like family. And fuck hair-o’-the-dog -- nothing cures hangovers like hot sweet breadlike items smothered in sugary liquid.

When we get back to camp, we find a bag of food on our picnic table. Mr. Florida, on the way to the airport with his family to fly home, has taken the time to drive out of the way to our campsite to give us the rest of his unused cooler stuff. Who cares we didn’t need it? I thought it was the sweetest thing. People are (charmingly) nuts.

Then we saddled up and hit the trail. Literally. I love horses. They are beautiful creatures, and although I grew up in horse country in Virginia, I’ve not spent much time getting to know them or about them. But I am a sucker for a trail ride. A charming older cowboy gentleman named Sam Newman hooked us up, and told us tall tales while we waited. He was a talker in a completely different way than Mr. Florida. A cowboy-talker; constant but gentle and with plenty of pauses for either response or reflection - whatever we the listeners reckoned we felt like. (We found out the next morning from the purveyor of pancakes & velvet jesuses that Sam Newman did not speak a lick until he was eight years old. They grew up together.) Our trail boss (*giggle*) was an incredibly handsome young man named Dustin. Hellooooooooo, cowpoke! We were accompanied by a perfectly Iowan family from Iowa, and the trail dog Canyon. My pretty girl was named Sage, and Mark’s big boy was named Mason. (That sounds dirty, but it’s not.) Mason and Sage were (of course) best friends (if only in my mind), and trotted along happily side-by-side as Mark and I lasciviously ogled the gorgeosity that is the Badlands.

We tried to kick it back at camp during the hot part of the day (104 today), but there was no relief at all in the form of shade or breeze. So we gave up, hopped in an air-conditioned Myrtle (our newly named workhorse of an awesome car) and headed to Prairie Dog Town. Man! Those suckers are EVERYWHERE. It was pretty cool – must have been hundreds or thousands of them. Total cutie-pies and they know it, too! We saw a few bison, too, but only from too far away to appreciate them. Have I said that I am bison-crazy? I am.

We stopped at almost all the overlooks, wading through waves of heat back to the car when we needed a fresher-upper. A beautiful pronghorn sheep that looked like a stately old man passed by our car almost where we could touch him (if we had wanted to roll down the windows, which we didn’t because we would have instantly melted). And then it happened. At a perfectly inconspicuous overlook. Okay – ants, right? RED ants. Got that? FLYING red ants. Now try this: SWARMING flying red ants covering Shoogie’s hat and shirt within seconds of haplessly crossing their own ant-y Burning Man. It was totally freaky, but anti-climactically ultimately benign. Although we did get to make a report to an official investigative Park Ranger, which made us feel very important indeed. The Summer Ant Storm of 2006.

As it cooled off - well, let me amend. When it was supposed to have been cooling down, but actually wasn’t, we hiked the Saddle Pass Trail. It was a steep full-on climb, basically. We’d climbed an enormously steep way to the top ... to reach another plateau. Sigh. (Which cracked me up when I could breathe again, 'cause from the front it totally looked liked we were climbing a *real mountain*). But we were able to look down across the whole beautiful and far-away valley below us, and the oft-neglected but magnificent prairie at our backs. It would have been perfect if my eyes hadn’t been trying to hide in my skull due to the impossible bright early evening sun.

We got back home to witness the treat of Guitar Guy strolling all over the campground and through the bordering prairie. You know that guy, right? ...Just taking it all in, man. Wandering, strumming, singing to myself, experiencing nature. This is IT, man... Adorable in the Badlands; annoying at Gas Works Park - what can I say? (Turns out that Guitar Guy was also Early Morning Yoga/Pilates Guy.)

And then we partook in an all-you-can-eat Cowboy Cookout at the same place we eat pancakes; also delicious. And those folks are now the godparents of our children.

Tomorrow: Spelunking in Wind Cave! Also, I take back everything I said about Mr. Florida - we meet the talker to end all talkers.

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