It’s a Wild, Wildlife

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?

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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.

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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:

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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…

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Literally Greener

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.

Almost.


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. IMAG6481

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.

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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.

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Love the one on the right.

Life is good, guys.

 

 

Sensory Overload

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:

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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.

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Maybe ignorance is bliss. Thinking we were out of danger, we were able to enjoy the spectacular scenery around the lake.

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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:

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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.

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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!

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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!

How is This My Life?

I can’t believe we’ve lived in South Dakota for nine days already. It still feels brand new! I’m guessing it’ll take a full year for the novelty to wear off. I will say that Rapid City is such a compact and easily navigable town, we already know our way around pretty well. It’s hard to get lost in a city of 75,000.

Exploring the area has been my favorite part. On Sunday, we went to Canyon Lake Park, a gorgeous 29-acre park with expansive grassy areas, trees, gardens, a pagoda, fishing piers, walking paths – and of course the namesake lake, which appeared to be teeming with fish and was being enjoyed by kayakers and paddle boaters. We took a 2.5-mile stroll around the grounds, stopping beneath a shady willow tree to dip our feet in the cool water. After a week’s worth of moving madness, that was an incredibly relaxing moment. Best part of all? This amazing park is just a few minutes from our apartment.

After spending a glorious couple of hours at the park, we drove a few miles away to the Chapel in the Hills, a beautiful Nordic retreat nestled in the foothills. We’d seen photos online, but it’s even more impressive in person.

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I can’t wait to check the place out in the winter.

Sunday evening, we met up with longtime family friends, Carol and Bruce, who were visiting from South Carolina. Carol was stationed at Ellsworth AFB along with my dad, and Bruce is from the area; they actually got married in the Chapel in the Hills. Not only that, but Sunday was their 34th anniversary, so it turns out they also paid the chapel a visit. We got together for a nice Italian dinner at Botticelli Ristorante. The food was great and the conversation lively. They’re both very easy to get along with, as evidenced by the fact that we commandeered the booth for 2.5 hours. Oops.

Monday, I went back to work. But it was a different kind of work – my first day ever as an independent contractor. While it felt a little weird at first, within the first hour I decided that I freakin’ loved it.

Because I don’t yet have a desk or any sort of viable home office setup, I decided to take up residence at Harriet & Oak, the coffee shop I’m always raving about. I grabbed a spot in the upper mezzanine, ordered myself a coconut cardamom latte (yum!) and a bowl of oatmeal, and got to work. I logged into their free wi-fi, slipped on my headphones, fired up my laptop…and proceeded to get hugely distracted for the first half-hour because of the novelty of the situation. I was working! From a coffee shop! With no boss looking over my shoulder and nobody to answer to but myself! Plus, there were people milling about below, and that practically begged for some people watching. Eventually I realized the articles I’ve been tasked with weren’t going to write themselves, so I got down to it and was super productive.

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My cozy little office.

I’m not real familiar with coffee shop/wi-fi etiquette, so even though I ordered food and a couple of coffees, by noon I felt I might be overstaying my welcome so I packed up my gear and headed down the street to Main Street Square. This is Rapid City’s answer to Pioneer Square in Portland – sort of the city’s “living room” – but on a much smaller scale. I grabbed a table at Klinkeltown, ordered a “Dijon Blackbird” grilled cheese sandwich with black pepper cheddar, whole grain dijon, chicken, bacon, and arugula on whole wheat, along with an iced tea, and sat outside beneath an umbrella, watching everybody frolicking around the square. Ahh…heaven. It was in that moment that I thought to myself, I could get used to this lifestyle.

After lunch I stopped in at a media/publishing company I’d talked about work with over the phone earlier in the year, and they were kind enough to give me a tour of the place. I swear, it’s like a miniature version of the company I worked for in Camas, right down to the roll-up garage doors and reclaimed wood furnishings. Their building even used to house an automobile dealer, just like my company’s in Washington did. Uncanny, the parallels. They do have a conference room made from a converted shipping container, so these guys get bonus cool points for that.

I didn’t want to go back to Harriet & Oak and take up more space, so I Google Mapped the local library and drove down there. Rapid City is so compact, it was like four blocks away. The building itself is a little dated and the wi-fi was less reliable, but I mostly work from Microsoft Word documents anyway so it wasn’t a huge deal. At least there I was better able to blend in with the other patrons. And the books.

I wrapped things up at 4:00, and that is something else I love about this situation: setting my own schedule. I had errands to run, so I ran ’em!

Today was a virtual repeat. I started out with a morning walk through the wilderness park across the street, where I saw a good-sized buck bounding through the grass, in addition to rabbits and ducks. And thought to myself, how did this become my life? And how awesome is it that it did?

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Instead of getting up at 4:30 a.m. to walk, I slept in until close to 7:00. Gone are those super early mornings and 9:00 bedtimes, folks. I’m a 10:30 – 7:00 person now, and I love it. After returning home, I got showered and dressed and headed back to Harriet & Oak for a few hours, then I walked around downtown for a bit, stopping in a bunch of stores to check them out. I met Tara for lunch at (kōl), a wood-fired grill/pizza restaurant that we’d been following on Instagram for the past year. The atmosphere was super cool and the food was out of this world. Best of all, they have a Sunday brunch with bottomless Bloody Marys for $5 (!). The odds of a return visit? 100 percent, guys.

This evening we are going to head out for a drive to Sheridan Lake and a quick loop through the Hills. There’s a Severe Thunderstorm Watch, so we’re keeping a close eye on the skies. And bringing our cameras.

Not sure what we’re doing for the 4th yet. Either heading downtown for the festival at Main Street Square and fireworks at Founder’s Park, or checking out Lead/Deadwood for their festivities.

Have a great holiday!

 

I Don’t Give a Damn for the Same Old Played Out Scenes

I’m sitting in our apartment on a rainy, cool Saturday afternoon in Rapid City, listening to records and enjoying a Fernson tart ale. Our friend Heidi commented that it’s funny we had to move to South Dakota in order to experience rain. No kidding! It’s been a very wet month here, with over 6.00″ of rain in June, about triple the monthly average. Hell, that’s an impressive total even by Portland standards in the middle of winter. No wonder it’s so ridiculously green!

The cool weather is a relief after a couple of hot days, though. We were also working our asses off, which didn’t help matters. After four nonstop days of physical activity, we were more than ready for a break, so we declared Friday a day to play.

Our first stop was Harriet & Oak, the coffee shop in downtown Rapid City that we first visited on our trip last October. We grabbed a table and ordered delicious coffee drinks and breakfast burritos. I am planning to spend a lot of time at Harriet & Oak, starting on Monday; they’ve got wi-fi and a nice little upstairs lounge with comfy couches and cozy tables, so I intend to take advantage and work from there at least once a week, as I do not yet have a desk or home office set up. It’ll be the perfect distraction-free “office” space for me!

Stop #2 was Prairie Berry Winery, about a 30-minute drive away in Hill City. We fell in love with their South Dakota fruit wines in October and have been ordering their wine by the case and having it shipped to us for the past eight months. It’s great to be able to go straight to the source now and buy whatever we want without worrying about paying for shipping. We even signed up for their wine club! We get four bottles hand selected by the vintner every quarter, and in return, a 20 percent discount on all purchases and access to members-only events. My parents will be proud! I feel like such an adult now.

We were most excited to visit the Badlands, and that was our next stop. Tara had never been and while I have gone too many times to count, it’s just about my favorite place on earth. Originally we were planning on staying until sunset so we didn’t head out until noon. It’s about an hour’s drive east down Interstate 90, thanks in large part to the 80-mph speed limit. We decided to stop in at the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site first; this didn’t exist when I lived here last because, well, we were actually at the height of the Cold War, and some 1,000 nuclear warheads were hidden in underground silos beneath the Great Plains. We really enjoyed the visitor’s center and learned that they offer tours of an actual silo, but you have to make reservations in advance. Next time for sure!

The next four hours were spent exploring the Badlands. Words cannot describe the beauty and splendor of this majestic place, but pictures always help!

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It’s safe to say that Tara was impressed! (And don’t worry, Tracy – she wasn’t as close to the edge as it appears in this last photo.)

Despite the heat – it was about 85 degrees in the park – we did a lot of walking and hiking amongst the dramatic castle-like rock formations jutting up out of the prairie. Instead of hanging around until sunset as planned, we decided to head back around 5:00, because it had been a long enough day and the weather back home was turning ominous. But not to worry; I shelled out $40 for an annual pass, and have no doubt there will be many more trips to the Badlands in our future.

As we merged onto the freeway, the sky to the west was looking very ominous. We got a weather bulletin that there had been three tornados spotted in the Black Hills and there were reports of softball-sized hail, so we drove on with a mixture of trepidation and, I’ll admit, excitement. I have long been a weather geek and wannabe storm chaser, so I was both apprehensive and thrilled about the approaching storm.

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A few minutes into our drive we pulled over to the side of the road to take a few pics, stepped out of the vehicle…

…and HOLY SHIT. Those prairie winds were blowing so hard (we learned later they were gusting to 70 mph), they tore my baseball cap off and nearly knocked me off my feet. I went chasing after my hat and, luckily, was able to retrieve it before it blew all the way to Nebraska. We wisely decided at that point it was best just to get back into the car and drive home.

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The sky continued to darken, and streaks of lightning split the horizon.

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A few minutes later, the storm was upon us, and it was as though hell unleashed all its fury. Heavy rain started falling and, worse, quarter-size hail began pelting the Mazda. It sounded so loud I was certain it would punch a hole through the windshield at any moment, so we tried to take cover beneath an overpass but found half a dozen other cars already parked there. Fortunately the hail did not last long and we were able to continue on our way. There was rain and lightning the rest of the way to Rapid City, but that was nothing compared to what we had just been through.

The front page of this morning’s Rapid City Journal is devoted to the storm, and shows the damage these severe thunderstorms caused a few vehicles. One couple’s windshield was smashed in, so my fears were not completely unfounded! Man alive, if there was any lingering doubt that the weather here is more dramatic than in the Pacific Northwest, it’s all been erased after yesterday’s storm.

Today, by contrast, was much more relaxing. We hit some garage sales and ran a few errands. Picked up a cheap TV stand and a nice solid wood end table, and made a quick grocery store run to stock up on these fantastic Wisconsin cheese curds we discovered the other day. Tara was worried we wouldn’t be able to find Tillamook cheese in South Dakota, but I figured here in the heartland we’d have access to even better cheese. Sure enough, this stuff is the creamiest, tangiest cheese we’ve ever had. Our Safeway actually does carry Tillamook, but screw that. This stuff is so much better.

We’ve been here almost a week now and are settling in nicely. Rapid City is such a charming and friendly community, I think it’s safe to say we are enamored. Neither of us has any regrets about this move. As physically and mentally demanding as it has been, it was worth the hassle. It feels like we’ve arrived home.

And maybe in a few more days we’ll actually have everything in boxes put away.

 

Forced Creativity

I apologize for not updating sooner. I’d planned to, but there was a snafu with the cable company – totally my fault, as I scheduled the appointment for Pacific time instead of Mountain time – so when they showed up to install our cable/internet, Tara and I were actually kicking back at Buffalo Wild Wings enjoying a nice lunch and beverages. Oops. Not that I would have had time to sit down and bang out a blog post, though…

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Moving: it’s not for the faint of heart.

We’ve now spent three full days unpacking, and approximately 80 percent of that stuff has been put away – either in cupboards, drawers, or our storage unit. The apartment is pretty nice, but definitely lacks storage space. We didn’t realize until moving in that we don’t even have a kitchen pantry; this has forced us to both downscale, boxing up much of our stuff that we figure we can live without for a while, and get creative with storing other items. Our wine and liquor collection, for instance, resides on the bottom shelf of our bookcase, and we have canned goods in an old DVD cabinet. You do what you must. Plus, this is temporary; we’re only here for 13 months, and then we should be ready to buy a house. It’s a small sacrifice to make.

Here are some photos of the apartment.

We have already developed a nice routine of sitting out on the patio in the morning, drinking coffee. It faces west, so it’s very pleasant early. The afternoon is another story, but our A/C is very efficient! And we’ve had some clouds to take the edge off from time to time.

Yesterday, I made a purchase that got me really excited: a brand new barbecue grill. grillYou might recall that our apartment complex in Vancouver did not allow grills, so we haven’t been able to grill out for four long years. Considering we cooked out on average once or twice a week prior to that, it felt like an eternity. So I broke down and bought this nice drum-style grill. It’s charcoal, even – something else I wanted to try my hand at. We wasted no time either, grilling up ribeye steaks and corn on the cob last night. It took a little while to figure out the intricacies of getting the coals just right, but after a bit of trial and error we figured it out and ended up enjoying a delicious meal on the patio, complete with wine and beer. Sitting there as the sun dipped low and a few lazy clouds drifted by, I felt utterly at peace for the first time in weeks. The whole moving process sapped all our strength, and taxed us both physically and mentally. It was good to finally be able to relax.

I know it’s only been a few days, but so far we are both quite enamored of Rapid City. We are finding this community very charming and friendly. Seriously; everybody is so damn nice here! Must be that Midwestern hospitality. And it’s the perfect size and speed for our pace of life. No regrets whatsoever.

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It’s been a very wet spring around here, and Rapid City is looking quite green.

Today was hot – not gonna lie. Well into the 90s, and humid. Fortunately, the day we were making multiple trips back and forth to the U-Haul was overcast and pleasant. Thank you, weather gods, for that. Every day convective cumulus clouds have been building up over the Black Hills and there have been occasional thunderstorms in parts of the region, but I am still waiting to experience one myself. My inner weather geek absolutely cannot wait. This weekend looks promising.

After being on the go nonstop for over a week and with cooler weather on tap, we have decided to take a break tomorrow and drive out to the Badlands, which Tara has never seen. We plan to hang around until sunset, weather permitting. I’m going to pick up an annual pass while we’re there, because there will be plenty of visits in our future.

I’ll update again this weekend.

 

1,250 Miles in the Slow Lane – Pt. 3: Rapid City, SD

Honey…I’m home!

Funny concept, home. Most people have a hometown, or at the very least a place they associate with growing up. Being an Air Force brat, I never had that. Home truly was wherever I hung my hat. Honolulu was home three different times. Dayton was home. Vancouver, WA was home for what I assumed would be forever, until it lost its luster. Rapid City was home once, and now it’s home again. It’s very interesting, this nomadic type of existence. But I’ll tell you what: it makes a big, bold move at a time in your life when most people have long since settled down a whole lot easier to pull off. I’ve had a lot of people comment on how brave I am to do this, and tell me how envious they are. My go-to reply is hey, nothing’s stopping you from doing it, too!, but I guess if you haven’t grown up like I have (and Tara, too) that’s a lot easier said than done.

So, after three days, countless hours behind the wheel, and 1,250 miles – the majority of that devoted to the freakin’ big-ass state of Montana – we finally arrived in Rapid City at 4:00 this afternoon. Today’s leg was not without adventure. We were in no hurry to leave Billings, choosing instead to take advantage of the free continental breakfast at the Super 8 and catch the local news. They were talking about the U.S. Farm Report. The PNW already feels like a distant memory!

I took a stroll around the building before we hit the road, and noticed a bunch of squirrels scurrying through the grass beside the motel. Only upon closer inspection, it turns out they weren’t squirrels – they were prairie dogs!

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Not a squirrel.

We weren’t anticipating a very long drive today and figured it would go smoothly, but that’s the problem with road trips: they never quite go as planned. Our first mishap? Two minutes outside of Billings, Tara misread the signs and somehow turned onto I-94 instead of I-90. Suddenly, she was headed for Bismarck, ND while I was going in the opposite direction. I grabbed my walkie talkie to warn her – “wrong Dakota, babe!” – but by then it was too late. She ended up going five miles down the wrong interstate before she could find an exit and turn around, while I pulled over to the side of the road in the middle of nowhere, Montana. That little mistake cost us a solid twenty minutes.

Mishap #2: remember how wonderful Sydney has been this whole trip? Well. Not so much today. For some reason she was not happy being in her carrier, and immediately let me know that. Here’s the deal: I was feeling so confident in her behavior, I didn’t bother applying the Feliway cat pheromone stuff. I guess that really was doing the trick, because without it she was pretty stressed. I finally pulled over at a rest stop and applied some, but it took a little while to kick in and she still wasn’t happy. About 45 minutes into our drive down Highway 212, a two-lane road through the middle of Native American reservation lands, she started clawing at the zipper on her carrier. At one point I glanced in the rearview mirror and was shocked to see her perched on the back seat behind – not INSIDE – her carrier, looking like she owned the place. Then she jumped into the front seat and was trying to get to the floor near the gas pedal, and I knew I had to pull over. So I flashed my lights at Tara, but she didn’t see me and kept on chugging along while I found a place to pull off the freeway. I grabbed Sydney, admonished her for being a brat, and secured her in her carrier. Meanwhile, Tara realized I was no longer behind her and tried calling me, but that went to voicemail because we were in a dead zone. It was a pretty stressful ten minutes, but we eventually found each other again. Sydney settled down shortly after and was fine the rest of the way. Poor thing; she was definitely “over” being cooped up in a vehicle by that point. We all were!

As we drew closer to the South Dakota border, the skies darkened and began looking pretty ominous. This is what I love about the Great Plains!

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Look at that ominous sky!

We crossed the state line around 3:00, and pulled over next to the sign to take pics. A few miles later, the skies opened up and it began pouring rain. That continued on and off for the rest of the way through the Black Hills. Man alive, they were gorgeous, though! Just like in Montana, everything here is really green and lush.

An hour later we reached Rapid City. As we crested that final hill on I-90 and the view opened up to the small city and the vast prairie beyond, I had goosebumps on my arms. It really did feel like a homecoming.

We got checked into our room and immediately headed over to Chili’s. When we visited in October, Tara let out a little shriek of delight when she saw the Chili’s sign. I know they’re a chain restaurant and we generally abhor those, but there are no Chili’s in the Portland area and we’ve both always liked their food, so we were eager to grab dinner there. And a couple of Presidente margaritas. After such a long trip, we’d earned the splurge.

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After dinner we drove over to our new apartment complex to check it out in person. It’s in a very nice neighborhood and, while the apartment itself looks small from the outside, the wilderness park across the street is awesome. It’s quiet and peaceful, with lots of lush vegetation and a gentle babbling brook. There are hiking trails crisscrossing the hill that towers over the park, and it looks like a fairly easy scramble to the top. I bet the views up there are killer. Tomorrow I shall find out.

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Wilderness Park across the street from our new apartment.

Or maybe Tuesday, because tomorrow’s going to be super busy. We have to sign the lease, pick up the keys to our storage unit, and unload the U-Haul. We’re going to spend the night in the motel because the apartment is sure to be a wreck tomorrow. We’ll deal with putting everything away and unpacking the following day.

Thanks for following along on this journey! I’ll be back in a couple of days to keep you updated on our progress.

1,250 Miles in the Slow Lane – Pt. 2: Billings, MT

I am writing from the air-conditioned comfort of a Super 8 in Billings, Montana. It’s roughly 1,000,000x better than the crappy Rodeway Inn we stayed at in Spokane last night. Funny story about this place: when I arrived in town exactly seven years ago, I walked into the Day’s Inn to make a reservation and when they quoted me a price, I told them there was no way in hell I wanted to pay that, so I walked across the street to this very Super 8. And they quoted me an even higher price, as did two other places I tried. So I ended up crawling back to the Day’s Inn with my tail tucked between my legs, humbled by the whole experience.

At least it makes for a humorous story.

Today was very long. We covered 540 miles over the course of 11 hours, including gas and rest stops. The first 75% of the drive was cold and rainy; it wasn’t until we hit Livingston that the clouds broke up a little and the sun shone through. This whole area has had an extremely wet spring – Rapid City included – and so everything is lush and green. It’s quite beautiful.

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We are both operating on very little sleep the past couple of nights and sore muscles from packing and loading the truck, so the drive these past two days has been rough. But we only have 316 miles to cover tomorrow, which should translate to about 6-7 hours max, so we don’t have to rush out the door in the morning. Hopefully we can sleep in a little.

One disappointment: the Pickle Barrel, the local sandwich shop we discovered on our road trip last October and had had our hearts set on for dinner, closed five minutes before we arrived. Total bummer. We ordered Chinese food instead; at least they’ll deliver that directly to our room. I can’t imagine sliding behind the wheel again after such a long day, at least not without a gun pointed at my head. Even then I might just tell ’em to go ahead and shoot me.

The walkie-talkies, by the way, have come in handy. We’ve used them frequently and they are working out great! No issues whatsoever. I’d share our “handles” but they’re too risque, knowing my mom is reading this.

Once again, Sydney handled the trip without any problems. The vet gave us a small supply of pheromone-scented wipes and instructed us to rub down the inside of her carrier; they’re supposed to calm cats down during long trips. I’m not sure if that’s what is doing the trick, but she is certainly behaving far better than any previous car trips we’ve taken her on.

Oh, one observation about all this driving in the slow lane: I actually like it. Call me crazy, but it’s a lot less stressful sticking to a steady 60 mph in the slow lane. You don’t have to worry about passing slow cars, moving over for fast ones, and there’s no dealing with annoying semi trucks. Also, no chance whatsoever of getting a speeding ticket. True, it takes you a little longer to reach your destination, but I almost think the lack of stress makes up for that.

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One other thing to point out, since I’ve had more than one comment about this on Facebook: yes, Tara is driving the U-Haul. I’m surprised that surprises anybody! She is, after all, a mini stock car track champion (2007) and has long driven big trucks, while I’ve got a Mazda 3. She wanted to drive the truck, and trust me, we are all better off for that. She knows how to handle it much better than I ever could.

So, here we are: heading for the home stretch tomorrow. We should reach Rapid City by mid-afternoon. I am so excited!

1,250 Miles in the Slow Lane – Pt. 1: Spokane, WA

Greetings from Spokane, WA! It’s official: the Biggest Adventure of My Life® has commenced.

We were up bright and early this morning, out the door of my parents’ house at 6 a.m. We would have loved to linger, but there was still lots of work to be done – loading the vehicles, cleaning the apartment, and getting rid of more junk in the garage. We took a break at 9:00 and met Audrey for breakfast at Linda’s Homeplate, then I had to run to Comcast (always a joy) to return our cable equipment and deactivate our account. Once that business was taken care of, it was back to the apartment, where the three of us – Audrey included – were scrambling like crazy to get everything done before our final walk-through. That was originally scheduled for 11:00, but I managed to push it back to noon. We were still hauling things out of there four minutes before 12:00. It’s certainly been a stressful few days!

After that we had to pick up the U-Haul from my parents’ house, say goodbye to them and Audrey (ouch…yeah, there were a few tears shed), and then drive to the U-Haul rental center to hook up the trailer and load my car.

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There was a brief stop at McDonald’s for a bite to eat, and then we finally, finally hit the road. And promptly ran into bumper-to-bumper traffic once we crossed the bridge into Portland. And again a little while later in the Columbia Gorge; we actually came to a dead stop and sat there, not moving, for ten minutes. I have no idea why; there weren’t any accidents or road construction taking place. Suffice it to say, those delays cost us quite a bit of time, so we got into Spokane a couple of hours later than anticipated and had to scrap our plans to visit the cider tasting room Tara wanted to check out. Which explains why I am blogging at 11:40 after a very long day as we await a pizza delivery.

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But our trip is underway now, and the excitement is building. Tomorrow’s going to be a solid 10 hours, at least, as we drive through Idaho and Montana. Destination: Billings.

By the way, Sydney did remarkably well in the car. She didn’t let out a single peep the whole time, which makes me wonder if somebody swapped her for a lookalike when my back was turned.

Anyway. It’s late, and I should wrap this up. Long day ahead tomorrow. Mountain time zone, baby!

Desperation Purge

It’s been a crazy, emotional, and tiring past couple of days. And we haven’t even left yet. They do say moving is one of the most stressful events in life, and they were not kidding. It’s brutal, guys.

Yesterday was my last day at work. I’ve been with the company for five and a half years and love my job, so leaving it willingly is bittersweet. I’ll still be working for them, but on a contract basis, so I’m no longer an official employee. This has led to a few panicky moments over the past few weeks, but Tara has been supportive, reminding me that we are doing this in order to have a better, happier life. I have no doubt things will work out for us in the long run. At least I have the comfort of a guaranteed income that will help ease our transition to a brand new life in the Midwest.

They threw me a farewell party yesterday, and because my boss knows me well, he planned a Bloody Mary bar. One of the owners of the company gave a very heartfelt speech about how much my contributions have been appreciated, and really, it was perfect. I had an opportunity to say goodbye to the coworkers I have known for so many years, many of whom I consider friends now. I swear, I miss them already.

Leaving would be so much easier if you never had to say goodbye.

We picked up the U-Haul after work, and started loading it early this morning. Tara hired two helpers for two hours, and that proved to be a godsend; they hauled most of our stuff down three flights of stairs and loaded it into the truck for us. Smartest $140 we’ve ever spent! Unfortunately, we had a garage full of stuff to load ourselves, and we quickly discovered we didn’t have enough room in the U-Haul. I knew we should have gone for the 26′ truck! This led to a desperation purge in which we were forced to part ways with a lot of things we’d been holding onto forever. Thankfully the dumpster next to our garage was empty, because I ended up filling that sucker to overflowing. And we’ll still have to make a run to the dump tomorrow before we leave, most likely.

By mid-afternoon things were feeling hopeless; the garage was still pretty full and we were rapidly running out of room in the U-Haul. “This is impossible,” I said to Tara, and it certainly felt that way at the time. I reached a low point then, feeling more dejected than ever, and wished that we’d been able to afford the $7,000 the professional movers had quoted us. Things would have been so much easier that way. Tara felt it too, and actually suggested we delay our move by a day, rent a trailer and hitch for her pickup, and load the extra items in there. I was not down for that at all – we have a schedule to keep, after all; there are motel reservations and appointments next week – so I dug deeply, searching for whatever inner reserves of strength I could find, and somehow we powered through. Determined to make everything fit come hell or high water, I channeled my inner Taurus and, through a combination of sweat, perseverance, and stubbornness, we did it! Finally finished loading the truck shortly after 5:00. Whew! It felt like we were playing a real-life game of Tetris for eight hours.

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Like playing Tetris. We filled every square inch of this truck!

I am currently parked on a comfy chair in my parents’ living room. We are staying here overnight, and then tomorrow morning we’ve got cleaning to do, breakfast with Audrey, our final walk-through in the apartment, and then we have a couple of errands to run. We have to return our cable equipment, pick up the trailer for the U-Haul, and hook up the Mazda.

And then we get to drive seven hours to Spokane. With a cat who is 100% back to normal. Don’t get me wrong – I’m thrilled that Sydney is her old self again – but now I have to worry about her freaking out in the backseat.

Hey, in case you haven’t heard: moving is hard AF. And next Monday we get to do this all over again, only in reverse. Ugh. We’d better be happy in Rapid City, because I don’t want to move again anytime soon. Like, ever.

Because I want to chronicle every moment of this journey, I plan to blog from the road. So I’ll check in tomorrow from Spokane.

This is it! The culmination of a solid year’s worth of planning. We are both ready to go!!

Countdown: 1 Day!