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!

Blast from the Past

First things first: I need a good oatmeal recipe. I’m used to buying Trader Joe’s frozen steel cut oatmeal. Looks like an oversized hockey puck, but it’s surprisingly delicious and simple to make: two minutes in the microwave, stir, another minute and twenty seconds, and dig in. However, there is no Trader Joe’s in South Dakota, so I’ve been struggling to find a decent alternative.steelcut

In case you were wondering, instant oatmeal in a packet is not a decent alternative.

I might add that Harriet & Oak makes an excellent oatmeal – probably the best I’ve ever tried – but it’s not always practical to run downtown whenever I want a bowl. I’d rather just make it myself (and save money in the process).

So I’ve gotta figure something out. I found a few recipes online that look promising. Like this one. But if anybody else has a go-to recipe, I’m all ears.

Tara’s birthday last Friday was nice, even if she did have to work. We met for lunch and spent the evening playing cards, listening to records, and eating pizza. Just like our old life in Washington, only we were serenaded with a thunderstorm this time. When Tara’s coworkers learned it was her birthday, they got her a cake. Nice gesture! Today marks her third day there but so far it seems like a good fit. It’s a far less stressful position than the one in Vancouver. Another benefit to living in a smaller town.

DSC_0044Our real celebration was supposed to be on Saturday. Her birthday gift was a room at the Spearfish Canyon Lodge, something I’d booked four months earlier. We loaded the truck and took our time driving up there, detouring through Lead and hiking out to Roughlock Falls and back. When it came time to check in, Tara joked that it was going to be a great evening “unless they turn us away.”

They turned us away.

I wish I was kidding, but no such luck. Remember the thunderstorm that “serenaded” us the evening before? It was screaming at the top of its lungs out in Spearfish and caused quite a bit of damage. The lodge lost power Friday night and it was still out 19 hours later when we attempted to check in. That meant they could not honor our reservation. They’d tried calling me, but my phone number changed after I booked the room, so they weren’t able to get through to me. They did send an email, but that was mid-afternoon and we were already hiking a mile from the lodge by then. Plus, we had no cell service anyway.

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I was devastated, to be honest. I’d planned this all so carefully and was proud of the fact that I’d booked us such a great getaway. To her credit, Tara was unfazed and suggested we find a Plan B. We had read about a cool, retro 1950s-themed motel in Custer that we wanted to check out someday, but I figured the odds of snagging a last-minute room on a Saturday night at the height of tourist season in a town within spitting distance of both Crazy Horse and Mount Rushmore were slim to none. Somehow, luckily, I was able to get a room and salvage her birthday weekend. So we regrouped in Lead over a couple of drinks and a plate of onion rings and then drove the hour and thirteen minutes south to Custer.

The Rocket Motel certainly lived up to its hype. It was unbelievably cool! Vintage decor throughout, right down to the furnishings and tile. And it was one of the cleanest motels we’ve ever stayed in. Plus, the bed was super comfortable. You might say the place was firing on all cylinders! We wandered down to a bar and grill the manager recommended for a bite to eat, then went back to the motel. They had a covered patio and since the weather was perfect, we brought out wine and a cribbage board and played until the chilly night air drove us inside, where we played some more. I have to say, as far as Plan Bs go, this one was killer.

The next morning we grabbed breakfast at a little cafe downtown before checking out. Drove through Custer State Park next, stopping at the Mount Coolidge fire lookout tower to take in the views before heading to the Wildlife Loop.

That certainly did not disappoint! We were two-thirds of the way through and had seen the usual prairie dogs, burros, and pronghorn antelope, but hadn’t stumbled across any bison yet. And then we rounded a bend and there they were. Everywhere. There were hundreds of them, as far as the eye could see. It was a breathtaking sight, and reminded me of the scene in “Dances With Wolves” where they crest a ridge and find a veritable sea of buffalo in the valley below.

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If you’ve never been to Custer State Park and driven the Wildlife Loop, do it.

All in all, it was a pretty great weekend, even though it didn’t go as planned. But in some ways those are the best kinds of weekends, aren’t they?

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July has been unusually cool and wet. It’s weird to have triple the normal precipitation and high temperatures 15-20 degrees below average while the PNW is roasting through an extended heatwave. Sounds like they’re about to find some relief just as our temps are warming up to seasonal norms.

These next couple of weekends are going to be low-key, because the 2018 Sturgis Motorcycle Rally (we have learned locals call it simply “the rally”) is about to commence, and with that comes a lot of noise and streets crowded with bikers. They’ve even put up temporary traffic lights throughout the Black Hills to help control the throngs of people. It’s great for the local economy, but not so much if you want to get out and do things. Or so we’ve heard.

I see a lot of movies in our immediate future.

Donut Judge Me!

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.donut

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.

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Love this bench!

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Here’s the view from the bench. See that triangle-shaped dot near the top left? That’s the lookout tower.

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Perfect day for a hike!

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Looking east across the prairie.

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.

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Made it to the top!

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I believe that’s North Dakota off in the distance.

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Successful summiteers tie their bandanas to poles and trees.

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.

 

And then all hail broke loose…

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.

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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.

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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…

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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…

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.

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.