Spot 68: Pretty Great

Today is overcast and cool. It’s early afternoon and barely 60 degrees! Summer isn’t over yet – it’ll be back in the 80s tomorrow – but this is one sure sign that it won’t last forever. Living someplace with honest-to-god seasons is going to be a novelty, too. In the PNW, our temperatures would cool and the rainy season would kick in come fall, but it was rarely anything too dramatic. Last Thanksgiving it was 65 degrees. Any random July day could be 65 degrees. Pretty mild climate all things considered, which I’m sure is one of the draws. If you don’t mind getting wet.

Out here on the Great Plains, though? Let’s just say I’d better start shopping for a good pair of snow boots.

Fortunately the weather this past weekend was nice, which made for ideal camping conditions. Our destination was Sheridan Lake, just one of many spectacular bodies of water in the Black Hills.

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We had the perfect spot, too. There were just enough trees (the ever-present Ponderosa pines) to provide shade, and while we weren’t right next to the water, it was only a stone’s throw away.

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Our first evening, we cooked bratwursts and beans over the campfire, enjoyed tasty adult beverages, and listened to music. Caught a pretty spectacular sunset, too:

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Which was rivaled only by the next morning’s sunrise.

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Saturday, after breakfast, we hiked the Centennial Flume Trail, but didn’t have a very reliable map and because it branches off in several different directions, we ended up cutting our hike short at just over three miles. Which was probably just as well, because it was warming up by then and we had Bloody Marys to drink back at the campground!

Our second night was a repeat of the first, only we had ribeye steaks and corn on the cob, and we played a game of Cribbage. We’d actually forgotten some food at home, so we ended up running back to the apartment at one point. Good thing it’s only a half-hour drive away. When we returned to camp the sky was growing dark and ominous, and we actually had to duck inside the tent for a few minutes. But after a few rumbles of thunder, some gusty winds, and a brief smattering of raindrops, the sky cleared and it went back to being perfect.

Sunday we decided to give our hike another go after learning which way to go, but this time we hit the trail super early – 6:30. It was nice and cool and the morning light on the lake was stunning.

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The hike itself is pretty interesting. The Flume Trail follows the path of the Rockerville Flume, which carried water along a 20-mile stretch for placer gold mining operations in the 1880s. After dropping into the Spring Creek Canyon, the trail climbs high into the hills above, and you can see the crumbled remains of the flume itself, as well as a couple of abandoned tunnels. Warning: it’s not for the faint of heart, as the trail is pretty narrow in a couple of spots and it’s a LONG way down, plus you’re scrambling over rocks. But the views are worth it.

We were back at camp by 9:30, and enjoyed a nice leisurely breakfast and read books for a couple of hours before it was time to break down camp and head home. All in all it was a great weekend getaway, and we can’t wait to do some more camping next summer! I figure things will be a little less hectic then since, you know, we won’t be busy planning this big 1,250-mile cross-country move.

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Upgrade to a King

The weather has taken a definite turn the past couple of days and given us an early taste of fall. It’s going to be short-lived, but is still a nice reminder that “summer’s lease hath all too short a date.” (Sonnet 18 is the only Shakespeare work I can quote. I’m pretty sure I memorized that one to impress the ladies once upon a time, ha.) Yesterday we awoke to a cold rain and gusty winds. The high never made it above 65, which felt wonderful, to be honest. IMG_20180819_105334_295

And then this morning I was up early for a walk around the neighborhood and practically froze my ass off. I had to put on a hoodie and quickly regretted not grabbing gloves, too. Rapid City got down to 43 degrees. Brr! It’s funny to think in a few months a temperature like that will feel downright toasty.

I sometimes forget the seasons are going to change – and quite dramatically, at that. It’s been perpetual summer here ever since we arrived, so this is all I know right now. I think that’s why this morning’s unexpected chill was such a shock to the system. It’s pretty much always been 65 degrees when I’ve gone for a morning walk. Where did this come from?!

Fortunately, Saturday’s weather was perfect, so we ended up going to the Central States Fair. Neither Tara nor I had been to a fair in years, but Rapid City’s seemed so quaint and inexpensive compared to what I’m used to, we couldn’t resist! I mean, admission cost $3 per person, and there was plenty of free parking in a grassy lot just steps from the main gate. Hell, the “gate” wasn’t even an actual gate, but a couple of wooden podiums staffed by friendly volunteers. It would have cost us a total of $29.50 to gain admission to the Clark County Fair in Washington this year, so you can understand my excitement over handing them a $10 bill and getting change back.

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The fair itself was your typical county fair. We strolled the midway, checked out the arts & crafts and livestock exhibits, and ate bad-for-you-but-oh-so-good fair food. We even struck up a conversation with an oil & vinegar vendor who’d come all the way from La Grande, Oregon to sell his wares. I felt sorry for the guy because he’d traveled such a distance and business wasn’t as brisk as he’d hoped. We bought a couple of bottles but he gave us one for free and would only take half price on the others. He actually said if we come back near the end he’d load us up with more bottles for free. I guess we made quite the impression!

Funny side note: I bought a bottle of strawberry and black pepper balsamic vinegar which his card touted was “Amazing in Bloody Marys!” I asked him if he’d ever actually used it in a Bloody Mary and he just looked at me and laughed. “Hell, no!” he admitted. “That’s just something I wrote to help it sell!” Well, I didn’t think it was a completely horrible idea, so the next morning I made myself a Bloody Mary using the vinegar and you know what? It was pretty damn good.

Guy’s sitting on a goldmine and doesn’t even know it.

After the fair, we came home and watched the Broncos-Bears preseason football game. It was great, right up until the last few minutes.

Sunday we bundled up against the early autumn chill and headed out to Denver Mattress to buy a king bed. It looks like we might have our first visitors Labor Day weekend, as my parents have expressed an interest in flying out here. Yay! Tara’s been wanting to upgrade to a king for years and we’ll need a spare bed for guests, so it was time to bite the bullet and get ‘er done. Found one we both liked and were in and out of the store in less than an hour. The only downside? It has to be ordered from Sealy and might take as long as two weeks to arrive, so we may have to use the air mattress for this particular visit.

(Don’t worry, mom and dad. We’ll give you the bed.)

Speaking of the air mattress, we’ll be using it this weekend because we’re going camping. I booked us a reservation at Sheridan Lake the week after we got here (something that would have been impossible in the PNW, where you have to book a spot a year in advance these days). We’re looking forward to doing a bit of hiking, enjoying a roaring campfire, and indulging in a few of those strawberry and black pepper balsamic vinegar-infused Bloody Marys! The weather looks to be perfect, too: low 80s and dry. I don’t imagine tent camping in a thunderstorm is much fun.

Rally the Troops

When the Sturgis Rally came to town, we did our best to avoid it. Spent all last weekend cooped up indoors, watching movies and laying low. The constant rumble of motorcycle engines was trying, and the attendant traffic issues – all those bikers clogging the roads in and around the Black Hills – felt like a personal affront. So when Tara suggested we drive up to Sturgis Friday night and check out the rally for ourselves, I was initially skeptical. I figured we’d stick out like sore thumbs, a couple of non-motorcycle-riding new to town. Our point had been to avoid all of the commotion, so changing tactics and planting ourselves smack dab in the middle of what can best be described as a bacchanalia of hedonistic craziness and smoked turkey legs seemed counterintuitive to our agenda.

But the more I thought about it, the more intriguing the idea seemed. Tara’s new coworkers urged her to go, saying the rally is something everybody should experience at least once. And besides, I was going stir-crazy after being cooped up in the apartment for the better part of 10 days. I was ready for a break, and told her I was all in. So on Friday after work, we found ourselves heading west on Interstate 90, right into the heart of biker country.

To my astonishment, I ended up having the time of my life.

Words cannot even describe the spectacle that is the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. Picture hundreds of bikes lined up in neat rows along Main Street, and thousands of people strolling around, most of them decked out in leather and wearing bandanas. Topless women – just a few, but enough to keep me on my toes – with strategically placed pasties or painted skin. And those aforementioned turkey legs, along with a collection of other deep fried delicacies that would make Crisco stockholders weep for joy. And on every corner Bud Light and Jack Daniels and Twisted Tea.

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According to the media, the modern Sturgis Rally is a lot mellower than in years past, mostly due to the fact that the hellions of yesteryear are now elderly. It’s  hard to feel intimidated by cane-wielding octogenarians, even if they have badass rides, ya know? And there were plenty of other people like us walking around – even a handful of families with kids. I never felt out of place or in danger. Quite the opposite, actually: I ended up having the time of my life.

It didn’t even matter that it was a warm summer evening – that just made our cold drinks taste even better. After strolling up and down Main Street for a while, we ducked into the Loud American, a bar Tara’s coworkers had recommended. We enjoyed live music, Bud Light and Cheladas, and just about the best damn steak tips ever. Not to mention some excellent people watching.

Then it was back to the main drag for more fun. By now the sun had gone down and the night was comfortable. We enjoyed seeing the motorcycles show off their custom lights. Among other things.

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When all is said and done, I have to admit we had a much better time than expected. I guess I didn’t know what to expect exactly; it’s not like my parents ever took us to the rally back in the 1980s. I’m pretty sure my head would have exploded if they had.

But now that it’s over, I find myself missing the hustle and bustle a little bit. I am sitting on our patio writing this post as the sun is sinking low and shish kabobs are sizzling on the grill, and it’s noticeably quieter than it has been in a couple of weeks. I mean, that’s nice, of course…but I am already looking forward to next August. I’m pretty sure the Sturgis Rally will be an annual event for us, even though we’re about as far from being the biker type as possible.

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Blast from the Past Part II

Last week I took a stroll down Memory Lane.

Needing a mental break from two full days of work, on Wednesday I drove out to Ellsworth AFB, my home from 1983-86. Civilians aren’t generally allowed on military installations, but the South Dakota Air & Space Museum just outside the main gate offers a $10 bus tour of the base, complete with a visit to a Minuteman II missile silo. The lure of setting foot on base again was impossible to resist, so after checking out the museum – pretty cool in its own right, with an extensive collection of military aircraft outside and two hangars’ worth of historical displays indoors – I boarded the bus and settled in for the base tour.

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My tour guide, Garry, was great. He started out by asking if anybody had ever been out to the area before, and when I told him that I had lived on base for three years and had just moved back to the area to escape the crowds and high cost of living on the west coast, he informed me that his circumstances were nearly the same. He’d been stationed at EAFB until 1982, when he was transferred to California. After several miserable decades there, he came back to Rapid City six months ago. Said he’d been to all 50 states and this was his favorite place.

Garry and I bonded.

It was a real trip being on base again! It was like stepping through a portal and going back in time, even though most of the housing has been modernized. We drove right by Ohio Avenue, the street we’d lived on three decades earlier, and I learned the crappy duplexes we’d been stuck in had been torn down and replaced with beautiful new houses that have covered porches and garages. Garages, guys! We had to plug our car in during the winter because we didn’t have so much as a carport even. This generation of military families has it so much better.

Some things were blessedly unchanged. The movie theater was exactly as I remembered it, and the ponds we used to fish in were all still there. I swear, I had goosebumps while we drove around. It’s all still so surreal to me. A mere 14 months ago I never would have imagined in my wildest dreams that I’d be walking around Ellsworth AFB again.

The highlight of the tour was definitely the missile silo. It had been converted into a training facility complete with an actual Minuteman II inside, the size of which is just amazing. At one time 150 of these missiles were buried beneath the plains of western South Dakota, aimed at Russia and ready to launch on a moment’s notice. They were deactivated in 1991 and have all since been removed, but Garry did tell us there are currently 400 armed missiles in North Dakota, Wyoming, and Montana. That ought to sober you up!

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Thank god we survived the Cold War without incident.

After the base tour and museum visit, I drove over to my alma mater, Douglas High School. Even though I did not graduate from DHS, I’ve always felt a much stronger kinship with that school than the one that gave me my diploma, Milpitas HS. Probably because I went to Douglas for three years and was only at Milpitas my senior year. All my best high school memories are at Douglas; I was a newcomer at Milpitas and hardly knew anybody. Anyway, I did stop by DHS on my road trip out here in 2011, but this time the gate to the football field was open so I walked around the track, absorbing all the feels. Again, so many memories came flashing back. Good ones. I was always happy living here, which I can’t say about every place I’ve been, that’s for sure.

The rest of the week – and weekend – were low-key. We set up folding camp chairs at Main Street Square on Thursday for a free Georgia Satellites concert. Remember those guys? One-hit wonders from 1986 with “Keep Your Hands to Yourself“? I can’t believe they’re still around.

Friday evening we played cards, listened to records, ate pizza, drank rum, and walked to the video store to load up on movies. The Sturgis Rally is in full swing now, and we didn’t want to venture out and deal with a million motorcyclists. I mean, they’re all over town; you walk down the street and see groups of five, 10, or 15 Harley Davidsons, one after another, roaring by. It doesn’t really bother me, but I also would rather avoid the traffic in the Black Hills. So we’ve pretty much sat around and watched movies all weekend. I envision a lot of Saturdays and Sundays like this when the temperature is below zero. Kind of a shame it was overcast and 75 today!