Monday, April 5, 2010
The Long Road
Planning a six-day drive with overnight camping, Mat and I departed Massachusetts in fine fettle. He was, perhaps, a little less eager than I; after all, I was returning to the land of my heart, and dragging him bodily from the busom of his ancestral home. Nevertheless, the sun was shining, the car was tuned up and packed like a tetris-lover's fantasy, and the pets were fed, walked, watered, and established in their respective quarters of the vehicle. We were off.
We were about three hours into a six-hour Chicago traffic jam when the novelty wore thin, and it was Minnesota before we had our first cramped, sweaty, mosquito-bitten argument. We were approaching South Dakota when our oranges started rotting, and well into the endlessness of that same state when our car started belching thick black smoke.
To the dogs' and rats' credit, they traveled like old hands, and I confess that the short temper of the itchy pregnant lady (yours truly) might have been the single worst thing about the trip. By day three, it was still fun (but not that fun), and were were wishing, not that we had never started, but rather that we had started in a capacious minivan. Our Geo Metro had enjoyed a checkup and an oil change in Sioux Falls, and we spent the rest of the day pursuing the elusive grey horizon with the conviction that South Dakotans were to blame for our vehicle's worrisome emissions.
Grocery shopping in landlocked mid-America offered a rude awakening; as natural food fanciers and vegetarians, Mat and I would have settled for some fresh bread and organic soup mix. Those weren't easy things to find in Luvurne, Minnesota or Mitchell, South Dakota. Still, we survived, and at the end of day three we were cruising into the bison-ridden majesty of Badlands National Park.
We arrived, after traveling an hour on one dirt road or another, at a quiet campground. This place, with the sky above and the humped forms of bison in the distance, had the air of being the Center of Creation. It was peopled with quiet tents around the perimeter of a smooth depression.
Mat and I pitched our tent on the glorious flatness of this smooth area, wondering why the other campers had neglected so flat a surface and so pristine a campsite. We hardly needed our Thermarests as we bedded down on the plane of the earth that night, the silty clay surface under our tent floor having more in common with a polished ballroom floor than a typical piece of ground. We went to bed comfortably, drifting off to the rumbling of an approaching summer storm. As the first raindrops fell, Mat and I had no idea that we were about to learn something important about the geology of that region, and particularly about the nature of the smooth clay concavity in which we slumbered.
. . . to be continued . . .