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  • Thursday, July 19, 2012

    Bad Lands to Travel Across

    I've had a lot on my mind lately, so it's time for more solitude and nature. I'm sure a lot of you reading my blog have to wonder if I've had enough of that in the past year. After all, I've spent most of it homeless and living in the woods. But the answer is no, It's like money and ice cream. There's always room for more. And these beautiful places out of doors become a necessity when I need time alone to think. Which is one of the reasons I'm on the road again.

    Since hiking the Long Trail, I spent some time with loved ones and got a paycheck or two, but now I'm in South Dakota, and in the twenty-something-ith national park I've visited this year. (I've honestly lost count.)

    The native Lakotas tribe called the area mako sica. French trappers called it les mauvaises terres a traverser, but it all basically means the same thing: these are bad lands to travel across. Today we simply call it Badlands National Park.

    This morning I found myself scrambling over white sun-baked rocks, in temperatures exceeding 100 F, in a park that has no potable water and nearly as much shade. I was getting an idea of why the name Badlands stuck through multiple generations and cultures. Later, I saw a sign that said, "Caution: Prairie Dogs Have Plague!" Alright, alright, I get it! These badlands are bad!

    To escape the heat, I spent the afternoon in the nearby town of Wall, home of the famous Wall Drug Store, whose roadsigns for 400 miles promised free ice water, ice cream, and air conditioning.

    I drove back into the park while the sun set. By the time I got back to the trailhead, got packed up, and set out to find a campsite, it was after nightfall. Some people might call this bad time management, and they wouldn't be wrong, but I prefer to call it living by the whim of happenstance.

    I put on my headlamp and hoisted my hastly packed backpack onto my shoulders. After a steep climb up a trail, the ground leveled out into a grassy plain. At this time of night, there is no way to be sure if the rustle in the tall dry grass is from the wind or something with teeth (or the freaking plague!). I shuffled through the grass toward the sharply eroded silhouette of the Badland's signature buttes and spires. A bit of salmon pink light still lingered in the sky at its rim. By the time I reached the spires, it too faded and the stars were out, enough stars to keep my tent packed away tonight.

    I scrambled somewhat aimlessly over the ridges, rocks, and ravines until I found a flat spot on the ground, where I now sit. My mind is still cluttered with thoughts, but now I'm here, sitting alone on a rock hundreds of feet above the road, with cicadas chirping and coyotes howling. The dry summer winds roll by and kick up dust. Rather than shield myself from it, I lean into it with my eyes shut and listen as it blows across my ears. Everything will begin to unclutter now, it's only a matter of time.