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.

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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!

Not Montana

I was in the kitchen at work the other day and one of the RMs walked in for a cup of coffee. “So, I hear you’re moving!” he said to me. “Montana, is it?”

I corrected him, but couldn’t help chuckling over it later. I get this all the time; people know I’m moving to the Midwest somewhere, but can’t quite put a finger on the proper state. They’ll guess all the states surrounding South Dakota, but never seem to land on that one. It’s like they’re throwing darts at a map of the northern U.S. and seeing where they land. I have heard that I’m moving to North Dakota, Wyoming, and Minnesota, too. Even my good friend Heidi mentioned how different Grand Rapids, Michigan, is going to be. More than once. But she later admitted to thinking of the Midwest as “one big glob” anyway.275_5564b464d3a0c7.40098105_mw-map-poster-white_1500x

And maybe it’s just my imagination (running away with me), but I’d swear there is often an underlying note of pity in their voices, as if I’m being forced into something I do not want. Like I’ve drawn a short straw and am being exiled to a far-off land where it snows a lot and there are more bison than people. When I tell them no, this is a good thing, I’m leaving on purpose and looking forward to the change in scenery, a glint of relief appears in their eyes, followed by the inevitable question, “Why there?”

It’s okay. Everybody is well-intentioned, and I understand their curiosity. People in the PNW tend to be snobs about where they live. I don’t begrudge them for this; the upper left corner of the U.S. is beautiful, the climate temperate. A lot of people want to move here, while those itching to leave are in the minority. This makes me the weird exception to the rule.

By now I can recite my stock answer in my sleep. It goes along the lines of, my dad was in the Air Force, I went to high school there, loved the area, I want a simpler and cheaper way of life. That does the trick nicely.


Tara is headed home today and should be back by early afternoon. I’ll be glad to see her. A friend asked me today how I enjoyed my bachelorhood, but really, it was uneventful. I mostly watched a bunch of documentaries and cooked foods she would not like. This is what a forty-something party animal looks like, I guess.

My Saturday hike was definitely the highlight. While my last post might give you the impression that the whole hike was one big winter wonderland, that’s not the case. The first couple of miles were green and damp. Here’s proof.

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Countdown: 87 Days