This is the one, the big shebang, the trip we have been hinting at for months (because I’m sure you were keeping track). We would’ve done more than hint, but we ourselves only had a hint of what was going on, and, much like mice and other men, our plans aft gang aglee despite hours of research and deliberation.
We decided to call this trip the “Western Omelette”, because it had many different ingredients -but not too much of any single ingredient- and tasted delicious, and it’s just a sweet name for a road trip. Our adventure started as many do: straight from work. I worked a whopping 2 hour day, thanks to low numbers at a job fair my company was hosting. After promising my boss I would return alive from the trip, I bolted up to Madison (I was working in Kenosha for the day) to find Andy on his porch getting some things together. We loaded the car, swept his house for necessary last-minute items, almost forgot his glasses, and drove to REI for one last gear grab.
We needed a GPS locator beacon, some snow-stakes, and some impulse buys (camp-soap: used once, para-cord: used twice). The GPS beacon came in handy, as we were able to send “we are safe” messages to our loved ones (if you didn’t get the message, we don’t love you). The GPS also gave is the thankfully unnecessary option to send out an SOS signal, which would alert local authorities to our location and prompt a helicopter rescue. Sweet.
But possibly the most important thing as bought from REI was an annual pass. What kind of annual pass? The kind of annual pass that makes dreams come true (if your dreams involve accessing over 2,000 federal recreation sites). The America the Beautiful Pass acts as a ticket to National Parks, and with one payment of $80, your entrance and daily-use fees are waived (also it saves time when entering parks). Think of it as the spatula to an omelette: without it, you’d just have scrambled eggs.
Ten hours. It was supposed to take us ten hours to drive from Madison to Badlands National Park. That’s in South Dakota! You know what else is in South Dakota? NOTHING. Especially after dark. But the speed limit is like 80 so it goes by quickly. Also, navigation was easy, as Google Maps told us to “stay on this road for the next 768 miles”. Andy and I developed an awesome technique for driving long days. Loud music, car snacks, and lots of switching drivers. We switched every couple hours. This allows sufficient time for the passenger to relax but does not stress the driver; it’s better to switch before getting tired.
Arriving in the Badlands was spooky. Ghosts as far as the eye could see! Just kidding; the ghosts were hiding. We stopped at the park sign to snap a quick picture, then just drove in willy nilly. We knew we were allowed to camp anywhere (0.5 miles off trail, out of sight of the road) so all we had to do was park, take a trail out into the bad land, then walk off trail for 10-15 minutes. Since we arrived at night, there were no other cars, no people, and plenty of coyote calls. We stood in the empty parking lot, excitedly dressing warm for the cool night and packing for the expectedly warm morning, and also brushing our disgusting road-trip-snack filled teeth. We underpacked, which made our packs frustratingly empty and light (light, under-packed packs sit weird on your back), but we didn’t even care about comfort at this point. After starting off on the wrong dead-end trail (only about 500 feet to an overlook), we found the correct path and signed in at the trail log, so the rangers would know the general area in which to look for our bodies.
Oh, did I mention the moon? A full moon, or close to full, illuminated our entire hike; we barely needed headlamps (but we still used them because we are afraid of snakes and twisted ankles). The moon wasn’t alone, though, in illuminating our path. Lightning storms on three side of us also helped light our way and scare the bajeebees out of us. I really can’t explain how it felt to be hiking at 2am in the Badlands, illuminated by the moon, surrounded by lightening, and listening to the wind whip around the buttes (hehe, butts). We found a “nice” spot that we thought “might” be out of sight of the road and was “maybe” a half mile off trail. Point is, it was 2am and we just wanted to get some sleep. We actually set up fairly quickly considering the wind, and we got right to bed.
Waking up was easy because the wind and sun were unstoppably beating down on us in the open fields of the Badlands. We got off to a really slow start, making some tea and packing up slowly. We stumbled over some cactuses we didn’t notice the night before, waded through the tall green grass, and met back up with the trail. We finished this beautiful 3 mile trail to the saddle and made our way down to a parking lot down there. Our plan was to hitchhike the few miles back to our car. COULD WE DO IT?!
After about a half hour of being rejected, including being rejected twice by some old people who were doing laps of the park apparently, we got picked up! The girl who picked us up actually was parked in the parking lot where we were trying to hitchhike from, and she came over to us and asked where we were going. She was doing in the opposite direction, but said she’d take us back to our car anyway! So we tossed our stuff and ourselves into the bed of her pick-up truck and got to see the Badlands in a new way!
Once back at our car, we got some water and food into our bellies and then did another trail (this time without our packs). This trail was very exposed and it was during the hottest part of the day. On our way up a ladder (yeah the trial had a latter, weird), we came across a five foot rattlesnake! More like it came across us. While walking up this ladder, Andy noticed that the snake was directly under the rungs of the ladder, meaning the snake was maybe two feet away from me. He warned me, I didn’t believe him, and then we took some pictures of the definitely real snake.
Anyway, that hike was sweet, but we needed to get out of the sun and get some actual food in our bellies. We drove to the visitor center in the park and found a shaded picnic table. We made rice and put some chicken bullion cubes in the pot for some chicken-rice soup, and then added some stir fry seasoning. Delicious. We filled up on water at the visitor center and decided that we didn’t want to spend any more time in the Badlands (too darn hot), so we peaced outta there. Plans are stupid anyways.
This is the first installment in a long series covering our road trip. Stay tuned, and as we complete sections, we will link to them through this post [Edit: Part II!]. Or, sign up to receive email alerts! Or stand outside every night at 9:30, when we make yelling announcements out our windows.