I basically drove 100 miles today for a donut.
It was a damn good donut, if that helps. And that was a 100-mile roundtrip. I only went 50 miles in each direction to get it. I hope that makes me sound a little less crazy.
Trust me. It was worth it.
OK, I didn’t just go to Wall Drug for the donut, though that (and the 5-cent cup of coffee) was certainly the highlight. I was looking to get out of the apartment for a few hours and figured a jaunt down I-90 to my favorite kitsch-heavy drugstore mecca was just the ticket. And while I bemoaned the fact that the place was overrun with tourists at 9:30 in the morning, I walked out of there with a baseball cap, coffee mug, sticker, and bottle of hot sauce, which begs the question: even though I live here now, can I truly be considered a local if I’m buying touristy stuff myself?
In my defense, Wall Drug was a regular getaway for us when we lived here in the 1980s, and I’m finding it all sorts of fun to revisit these places from my past. I’m finding I have a whole new perspective as an adult.
Take Tuesday, for instance. It was our one-month anniversary in South Dakota (yes, it’s been that long already!) and I decided to commemorate the occasion by going for a hike. My destination was Harney…err, Black Elk…Peak. They changed the name two years ago to honor a Lakota medicine man; the Sioux consider the place to be sacred ground and it is where Black Elk had a great vision at the age of nine. I have fond memories of hiking here with my family and couldn’t wait to get back. At 7,244′, Black Elk Peak isn’t only the tallest mountain in South Dakota; it’s actually the highest point east of the Rockies and west of the Pyrenees in Europe. Which sounds like one hell of a climb, but keep in mind the elevation at the trailhead is already 6,000’. It’s about a seven-mile roundtrip and really wasn’t all that strenuous save for the last mile, where you’re traversing a series of switchbacks and stone stairs carved into the trail. I have to admit I was a little bit winded just because I’m still getting acclimated to living on the high plains after three decades at sea level, but I had plenty of water and never doubted I’d make it to the top.
It was totally worth the effort, too! Honestly, it was even better than I remembered.The scenery is off the charts. Towering ponderosa pines, purple and yellow wildflowers, sheer granite cliffs, burbling streams, and views for days. And this is what I mean about different perspectives – I don’t ever recall being blown away by it all 30 years ago as I was on Tuesday. I guess teenagers don’t have the same appreciation for the beauty of nature as adults do.
Once you reach the summit, there’s a stone tower that once served as a fire lookout; one time my family had to wait out a furious thunderstorm sheltered there, and hail covered the trail during our descent. This time there was only sunshine and a few puffy clouds to deal with. The 360-degree view is incredible – you can see four states from the summit (Wyoming, Montana, Nebraska, and South Dakota). It’s really something. It took me about four hours to complete the hike, and that includes quite a bit of time sitting on a rock outcropping gazing at the distant prairie that stretched across a seemingly endless horizon and wondering once again how I ever ended up back here. It still feels unreal! I’m not prone to Zen moments, but I came damn close on Tuesday. It definitely brought back memories and gave me All The Feels.
Afterwards, I came home and knocked out a couple of work assignments. As I did today. I feel like I have the best of both worlds right now; there’s plenty of freedom without any stress over money. So this is what it’s like to be retired! Although I must admit, I do find myself losing track of which day of the week it is. It always feels like it’s a couple of days later than it really is; Tuesday feels like Thursday, Wednesday feels like Friday. I suspect that will change once Tara begins her new job tomorrow and we revert to a whole new, more normal routine.
I also have to say, I’m already lamenting what feels like the end of an era. I will always look back on our first month here as one big free-spirited adventure. But of course, I knew it wouldn’t last. Nor would we want it to, as that would mean we were jobless and destitute. Freedom isn’t much fun if you can’t afford to go out and do anything, let alone pay the rent. So this is good!
Speaking of Tara, she should be home in about an hour. When last we spoke she was in eastern Wyoming making her way back to me. I’ll be happy to see her, as the novelty of being on my own wore off days ago.
I’ve said it before, though never using a fruit analogy: the weather here is bananas.
Take Tuesday, for instance. Our day started out quietly enough; we decided to go for a hike along the Sunday Gulch Trail in Custer State Park. Can I just say how different the trails are out here? No ferns or towering Douglas firs, but lots of Ponderosa pines and spruce trees, and quartz, mica, and obsidian deposits so abundant they make me want to take up rock collecting. Also: no bags of dog shit scattered about. And the scenery! It. Is. Incredible.
This particular hike was like none I’d ever done before. You descend into a forest, cross a stream, and then there’s a steep scramble up rocks that are covered in cascading water. It was tougher than anticipated, but well worth the effort!
During our hike, I made a remark about how unfortunate it would be to get caught in a thunderstorm. No sooner had the words left my mouth than towering dark clouds rolled in, followed by rumbling thunder. Luckily, it wasn’t anything too bad; we got a little wet but were otherwise none the worse for wear.
Worse for wear came later.
After hanging out at Sylvan Lake for a little bit, we drove out to Hill City to stop at Prairie Berry Winery for lunch. We decided to eat on their covered patio, and were midway through our meal when all hail broke loose. Literally. One moment it was quiet; the next, thunder roared, lightning flashed, and a drenching rain – accompanied by hail the size of ping pong balls – came crashing to earth. It was so loud under the tent it sounded like a freight train. Suddenly, there was a river of hail sweeping through the place, and it piled up about 2′ high under the gutter. That’s feet, not inches.
The temperature dropped about 30 degrees and we were suddenly shivering, so we made our way inside to find staff members mopping up water that was seeping into the place. And then on the way out, they were shoveling it off the sidewalk as if it were snow. Unreal!
I posted a video of the hail on Facebook; feel free to check it out for yourself!
Once the hail started coming down like that, I knew my car wasn’t going to come through unscathed. Sure enough, it’s all dinged up now. Which sucks, but at least the damage is only cosmetic. As one local on Instagram commented, “Your South Dakota christening! Now your car blends right in with the rest of us!” And while I’m busy counting blessings, thank god the storm that rolled through when we were hiking wasn’t anywhere near as bad.
So Rapid City has 5.00″ of rain so far this month. The normal is 1.00″. Crazy, huh? And we still have 11 days to go.
Sure makes for a pretty sky, though…
In other, non-weather-related happenings, we took a trip out to Deadwood last Sunday. I think I mentioned that we’ve been catching up on the HBO series Deadwood, a perk of Amazon Prime, so it was pretty cool to hang out where all the real-life action took place and learn more about Wild Bill Hickok, Calamity Jane, and Seth Bullock. The highlight was the Mount Moriah Cemetery, where all three are buried. Calamity Jane’s dying wish was to be buried alongside ol’ Bill, and she got what she wanted.
We have also discovered the wonders of Thursday nights in downtown Rapid City, where there are dueling entertainment options through August: concerts in Main Street Square, and more concerts on the Summer Nights stage on blocked-off St. Joseph Street. And here I thought our music-going days were finished! Last night we grabbed dinner at Que Pasa and then hung out in the square, drinking beer and rocking out to an 80s cover band. By the end of their third set we were actually dancing in front of the stage. Afterwards, we headed over to Press Start and totally continued the 80s theme by sinking quarters into video arcade games. They have a Tempest machine – my all-time favorite. We’re having so much fun here!
One more quick thing to report: Tara was offered a job this morning and accepted!! She made it look real easy, huh? She’ll be a commercial loan processor for a local community bank and is pretty excited for the opportunity. Since she’ll be working F/T and won’t have any PTO for a while, she’s going to zip down to Nevada for a few days to visit family and see her new nephew. Leaving tomorrow, returning Thursday. Which means I’m on my own, I guess.
If only there were fun things to do around here…
Lots of irons in the proverbial fire out here, folks. I don’t want to go into specifics so as not to jinx anything, but all the pieces seem to be falling into place. Or at least stacking up like they’re going to. For both of us.
Vague enough for you? Not to worry: all will be revealed in time.
One thing that has taken some getting used to is having so much free time. Since I’m no longer shackled to a traditional desk job, I find myself working in short but intense bursts. Mondays are my busy day; I usually put in a full eight hours and get the majority of my assignments done. That gives me a lot of flexibility the rest of the week, which allows us to run errands or go exploring. I know this freedom isn’t going to last forever, so I’m trying to take advantage as much as possible while I have the opportunity.
This week was no exception. I had a lot of work on Monday, a little bit on Tuesday and Wednesday, and then it was basically the weekend for me. So on Wednesday, we took a drive to Sylvan Lake in the Black Hills. This was our third lake in eight days; part of me feels like we should pace ourselves, but really, what’s the point? We’ve already purchased a SD state parks annual pass, giving us free access to these places for a year, and it’s not like we’re going to get tired of any of them. I mean, how could we?
I have fond memories of Sylvan Lake from the 1980s. We’d come out in winter, and there were people who drove their cars onto the frozen lake – that’s how cold it gets, and how thick the ice is. I don’t know if people still do that, what with global warming and all, but I know ice fishing is still popular there.
There was no ice fishing taking place on Wednesday, of course. Just lots of people cooling off in the water – swimming, kayaking, and jumping from the surrounding rocks. It was all pretty idyllic. We ended up hiking the one-mile loop around the lake and marveling over the scenery.
After circling the lake and stopping in the general store for a bite to eat, we hit the road again. We were traversing the famed Needles Highway, named for the granite rock spires that resemble needles. Specifically this one:
This National Scenic Byway really is one of the most breathtaking roads I’ve ever had the pleasure of driving.
After snapping pics of the Needle’s Eye above, we were waiting to pass through a tunnel carved in the rock but for some reason there was a vehicle stopped in the middle of it, not moving. A few minutes later a car came through and the driver told us there was a small herd of mountain goats on the other side of the tunnel, including a baby. What?! I passed through the tunnel on foot, and sure enough…
Now, there’s a scene you don’t see every day. These guys were close enough to touch, but I gave them respect and distance. There was an incident in Olympic National Park a few years ago in which a hiker was gored to death by a mountain goat, and while this herd was clearly used to people and seemed unfazed by our presence, I wasn’t going to chance it.
From there, we made our way into Custer State Park and decided to drive the Wildlife Loop. It lived up to its name once again. Bonus: another baby!
Last December a wildfire tore through the park and while there is a lot of burn damage, it’s still a very beautiful place. And with all the rain we’ve had this year, it’s looking quite green and lush, with yellow and purple wildflowers carpeting the prairie.
No wonder it was after dark before we finally decided to head home. We got back much later than planned, which forced us to change our dinner plans because nothing was open at that hour. Except for Taco John’s, that is, and while it may not have been a fancy choice, you really can’t beat their steak burritos and potato ole’s.
We made up for that on Thursday by going downtown for Rapid City Summer Nights, a free weekly festival featuring music, food, craft beer, and more. They essentially shut down a four-street intersection and put up a stage, tents, etc.
At the same time, Main Street Square features their own entertainment just a few blocks away with Thursdays on the Square. It’s a happenin’ night in Rapid, folks! Be there or be square, as the kids say.
We had a great time and can’t wait to go again next week.
Saturday afternoon, I was jolted from a peaceful reverie by the blaring wail of a warning siren. I raced to the window, looking for the source of the ear-splitting racket, convinced I’d see either an approaching tornado or an incoming ICBM, but the sky was thankfully clear. A few moments later the sirens quit and, because nobody else in the complex came bolting out of their apartment in a panic, I figured there was nothing to worry about. Curious, I pulled up Google and learned that Rapid City routinely tests their emergency sirens on the first and third Saturdays of every month at the stroke of noon.
Good to know.
Of course, it would have been better to have known this in advance. Pre-freakout would have been nice! But whatever. Life in the Midwest has been a series of adjustments and new ways of thinking. It’s all part of the learning experience.
One thing it has not taken us long to learn is the fact that you cannot leave home without liberally applying both sunscreen and mosquito spray. The first week here, I got so many bites on my arms and legs I lost count. And they itched like crazy. Turns out the mosquito population has exploded this year due to all the rain.
Fortunately, I haven’t gotten sunburned, but that’s probably because I’ve become more acclimated to the sun thanks to all the walking I’ve been doing the past few years, much of it in the middle of the day. I will tell you that the sun feels more intense here, thanks to our 3,200′ elevation. We are closer to that hot flaming ball of gas than we were living at sea level, and it’s noticeable. So too is the humidity, but it’s also a bit unusual this year due to all the rain we’ve had.
Early this morning, the silence was shattered by a different sort of noise when a pretty decent thunderstorm rolled through shortly after 4 a.m. It was accompanied by lots of lightning and thunder and a torrential downpour that lasted a solid hour. Over an inch of rain fell, adding to an already-impressive total for the year. The grass really is greener on the other side, folks. Literally! Interestingly, there had been no mention of thunderstorms in the forecast, so we went to bed completely oblivious of the fact that bad weather was moving in.
It amazes me how quickly the weather can change here, and how unpredictable it is. In the PNW, the forecasts are pretty reliable because there aren’t a lot of surprises and storm systems are easy to track as they make their way across the Pacific Ocean. People still grouse over the occasional bust, but 9 times out of 10 if they predict sunshine, you end up with sunshine.
Here, I’d say the forecasts are right maybe 5 times out of 10. And conditions change so rapidly! It can be perfectly clear at 3 p.m., and by 4 p.m. you’re ducking for cover because golfball-sized hailstones are plunging to earth and you’re caught in the open. (To be fair, this has not happened to me yet, but I kind of feel it’s only a matter of time.)
And I love it.
The weekend was hot, and because of that, we kept it low key. Actually wasted Saturday watching movies inside our gloriously air-conditioned apartment after an early walk around Canyon Lake Park. I rarely like to stay home, but I have to admit it was a pretty fun day.
Sunday I ran errands for a few hours. My goal was to find a computer desk so I could set up a home office. Good news: I found a couple of cheap ones at Goodwill. Bad news: they looked like cheap ones from Goodwill. The price was right but the condition was wrong, so I finally caved in and bought a new one from Target. It only cost $69 and while it was pretty basic, this was a good thing: I did not need a desk with a pull-out keyboard tray or built-in CD slots like the ones at Goodwill. I certainly didn’t need a desk that was stained with year’s worth of god-knows-what, either. So: money well spent. I also picked up a folding card table and a couple of chairs as we found it pretty challenging playing Cribbage a few nights ago without a table. Problem solved! And it will double nicely as a dining table should we end up with guests who don’t want to eat dinner from TV trays, as is our custom.
I spent the afternoon assembling the desk and am pleased to report this was a success. Ho-hum, you might be thinking, but you have no idea how poor my mechanical skills are. I once put together a grill and the wheels were upside down. Don’t ask me how, but to this day I have never lived that down. Afterwards I enjoyed a little wine and pizza. We were looking for something new to watch and saw that “Deadwood” was available to stream with our Amazon Prime membership. Score! I’ve been curious about the HBO series for a long time and it seemed like a logical and appropriate choice given its setting in the Black Hills, and the fact that we’re planning a trip to Deadwood this weekend. We watched the first two episodes and were immediately hooked. Now we’ve got 34 more to keep us busy the rest of the summer!
Almost makes one wish for continued hot weather.
Today I headed over to The Garage, the coworking space in downtown Rapid that I mentioned in my last post. It’s a very cool building with lots of brick, metal trusses, and arched ceilings. Just like the last place I worked. Hmm…I seem to be drawn to these types of spaces. There’s even a record player in the middle of the room and a stack of albums from Black Hills Vinyl. I was tempted to drop a needle on the groove and rock out, but I have no idea what the protocol is there and it seemed like that might bother the handful of people working there.
When I walked in this morning I was welcomed, given a quick tour of the facility, and handed the wi-fi password. Kelsey pointed out the free coffee – sourced from Harriet & Oak across the street, as luck would have it – and I was all set. There were plenty of desks and tables available, so I plugged in, slapped on my headphones, and got to work. I was super productive, churning out about eight articles over the course of six hours. I even ended up with a free lunch; one of the regulars brought in leftovers from his 4th of July picnic and I was invited to partake. The pulled pork, potato salad, and baked beans hit the spot. I chatted with him for a bit and exchanged pleasantries with a few other guys there. There are about six to eight regulars, it seems, many of them with private offices in the back. I felt like a bit of an outsider, but everybody was friendly and I really enjoyed working there. Best of all, they never even collected my $10 drop-in fee. I can’t justify paying $150/month for a lease at this point, but if fortune smiles upon me and I end up with enough work to make a real go of this lifestyle, I’ll seriously consider it. I actually felt like I “went to work” today, and being around other people made it feel like a real job.
We are currently grilling pork kebabs and enjoying a couple of drinks. I’ve discovered a local beer called Fernson that I really like. I despise beer in general, but do have a soft spot for sours and their Curio tart ale pushes all the right buttons. We’ve got another episode of “Deadwood” lined up and, wouldn’t you know it, those clouds are beginning to build up over the Black Hills again.
Life is good, guys.
We have done so much exploring the past week, I’m experiencing sensory overload. In the best way possible.
When I last updated, we were about to head out into the Black Hills to check out Sheridan Lake, despite the fact that a Severe Thunderstorm Watch had been issued for the area. Sure enough, we encountered ominous looking clouds the moment we left, and experienced some thunder, lightning, and rain on the way to the lake. And when we got there, we were treated to the following sight:
Those storms weren’t so bad, I thought. Little did I know they were only a preview for the main event. There was no cell service up there, so I could not access my trusty Doppler radar app. Had I done so, I’d have seen this line of severe thunderstorms bearing down on us.
Maybe ignorance is bliss. Thinking we were out of danger, we were able to enjoy the spectacular scenery around the lake.
Daylight was fading, so we eventually headed back to town. As soon as we had service again, I got a weather alert about the approaching storms, so we did what any sensible person would do in this situation: headed for the highest peak in Rapid City with metal tripods in gear so we could take pictures!
OK, in retrospect maybe this wasn’t the smartest thing to do. But we were hardly alone: there was quite the crowd gathered up at Dinosaur Park, watching lightning flickering constantly over the Hills as the storm approached. Soon it was all around us and thunder was booming overhead, so we decided to pack it in. Tara got this fantastic shot:
It started raining just as we reached the truck, and for the next 90 minutes the storm raged on, with nonstop lightning, thunder, and heavy rain. We ducked into Buffalo Wild Wings for a late dinner, and even over the noise from the crowded bar, we could still hear it. What a fun night!
The next day was the 4th of July, and I was feeling especially patriotic this year. Maybe because we live in the City of Presidents now. Plus, here in the heartland, people are more unabashedly pro-America than on the West Coast, so that probably rubbed off on me, too. Normally we spend the holiday lazing around home, but this time we decided to head downtown and check out the festivities at Main Street Square. Really though, it was just an excuse to bar-hop our way around town. At least everything was within a few-block radius, so we didn’t have to worry about driving.
This gave us a great opportunity to check out some of the local bars (Firehouse Brewing, The Brass Rail, Independent Ale House), and we even played video games at Press Start. They had Tempest! My favorite game ever!
Afterwards we headed over to Founder’s Park to check out the city’s fireworks display. We had no problem finding a place to park right across the street; we spread a blanket out on the grass and enjoyed the show.
It was such a fun holiday! Way better than staying home, that’s for sure.
Thursday felt downright tame in comparison. I went back to work, but instead of hitting Harriet & Oak or the library, I just worked from home. And had all my weekly assignments finished by noon, which means I’ve essentially had a long weekend ever since. It’s hard to wrap my head around this; almost feels like I’m getting away with something I’m not supposed to! I think the secret is, I’m just really productive when there aren’t other people distracting me. I’m going to check out a coworking space downtown called The Garage on Monday; they have a variety of different memberships available, including daily, weekly, and monthly leases; these give you access to a table or desk, wi-fi, and bottomless coffee. It’s worth the $10 drop-in fee to me, since I spent at least that much at the coffeeshop, and this way I won’t feel like I’m not supposed to be there all day. Should this freelance/independent contractor thing pan out, I might just consider signing up for a space there. At least that way I’m surrounded by other creative types, and it will feel more like “going to work.”
Friday we drove around town checking out various houses Tara had found, just to get a feel for the different neighborhoods. We are pretty much in love with this part of town, the northwest side, so when we do buy we’ll probably focus our efforts here. At least it would make our move a lot easier.
Because it was a hot day, we drove out to Pactola Reservoir in the afternoon. This lake is massive, and even though the temperature was pushing 90 degrees, the breeze coming off the water was refreshing. Plus, there were baby ducks and geese!
We came home, listened to records, played cribbage, and grilled buffalo burgers and corn on the cob for dinner. Spent quite a while chatting with our neighbor, Cici. She is super friendly (like everybody in the Midwest), and I can see us hanging out with her and Tyler, her boyfriend, in the future. Funny, we spent four years in our last apartment and never got to know any of our neighbors.
Today is going to be really hot – they’re forecasting 100 degrees – so we got up early, took a nice, long walk around Canyon Lake Park, and are planning on holing up the rest of the day, enjoying our A/C and watching movies.
Enjoy your weekend!