October 1st. The beginning of my favorite month and Halloween is only 30 days away. This marks the 4th month that has seen me on the road; July-August-September-October and shows the inadequacy of my planning skills. Originally, I had intended to be home almost two weeks ago but sometimes life just doesn’t go according to plan.
It was a rough weather night with lots of rain and wind, but we stayed dry which can’t be said for some of the tent campers. I could see their misery as I dodged puddles on the way to the restroom. Their tents resisted the wind, but the water is another story. One of the cars had New York plates and I wondered what brought them out this way. I bet others thought the same of me and I remember the small tinge of excitement when spotting a blue plate with “10,000 Lakes” written on the bottom. We were both so far from home, something brought us where we were but who knows what. No time to talk this morning and the tent campers were still hunkered down, burrowed deep inside their sleeping bags. I don’t believe they shared with me the luxury of a heater.
The rain and leaves added to the cool morning left no doubt about fall and Mabel was content to stay in the camper. The night was a little noisy, the neighbor’s dogs didn’t seem to like Mabel and I could hear car noises from the down town area. Someone decided it was a good idea to peel out and simulate a drag race. Their fun quieted early, or I fell asleep quickly. Either way it wasn’t a bad night sleeping between the raindrops and sudden thoughts of a tree falling on Arabella.
Tear down was easy with the site being a pull through and we were on our way after a quick breakfast and walk. I drove down Miles City’s Main Street which was quaint and quiet on a Sunday morning. The bars were silent, and the Casino’s sign lit, a beacon for those confident in their luck. No stopping for small-town tourism today, our main destination was Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
Mabel and I pulled into the last state before home at 10:47 am and it was pouring rain. The TRNP Southern Unit is just off HWY 94 and I found plenty of parking at the visitor center. The rangers were trying to listen to the Viking’s game but not having much luck. I walked around the center that highlights Roosevelt’s legacy with the American West and land preservation. He seems like the real deal and for a while honestly lived a cowboy/adventurist life. Back at Kitty Hawk, I started a habit of buying a book about the park or area I stopped to see and found one on TR’s life. It seems he didn’t restrict his adventuring to just the US as he also explored the Amazon River.
After figuring I had enough info to adequately explore the park, Mabel, Arabella, and I venture up the first hill and start our own exploration. There aren’t many on the road and I think the weather is keeping people away. It is a steady rain, not a downpour, but just enough to get you wet when outside the car. I am not sure if the weather helps or hinders the mood of my my photos, but I am determined to take pictures anyway. A sun shield doubles as a rain block keeping my lens mostly rain free but at times, when I adjust too wide, the hood acts as a vignette. I see this after the fact and thankfully don’t lose much to cropping.
The park is beautiful even in the rain and you get a true feel for the expansiveness. The distance is very distant. Not as much prairie grass as Little Big Horn, more rock and abrupt elevation changes replace the rolling hills. But the colors, even on a grey day, are captivating. The southern part of the park is an extension of the Badlands and the solemn nature of the area is its dominant characteristic.
We wind through the park, stopping to see different areas. There are so many photo opportunities, and some come through the driver’s side window. At the beginning of the trip, I would silently criticize people for doing what I am doing but now I understand that sometimes a drive through is the best you can do. Time is sometimes a luxury in short supply and experiencing some is better than experiencing none. Plus, the rain doesn’t help.
Mabel gets out and explores, again no rangers out to tell us we can’t. We find a spot abundant with red earth and its flakes remind me of the terra cotta pot pieces Sheri uses for plant drainage. Mabel travels out of site but I know she won’t go far unless a critter shows itself. I would never let her act like this at the beginning of the trip, I just didn’t know what she would do with her freedom. I think back to her chasing birds in Wisconsin and at the Outer Banks and how I must have looked trying to catch her. Now I have a higher confidence rating that she will return. But still, part of me says I should be a better parent.
Fittingly, we pass grazing buffalo, oblivious to our encroachment upon their home. After seeing pictures of their decimation, it is amazing they are still in existence. Hindsight is 20/20 and we now see the error in thinking that the redwoods, northern forest of Minnesota, and the buffalo were everlasting.
It is getting late in the afternoon, so we make our way out of the park. I try to find the Viking game on the radio and my effort is rewarded with hearing the familiar voices of the broadcast crew. But they aren’t very happy. The Vikings lost to the Lions and Dalvin Cook was injured. It could be bad.
I realize how out of touch I have become with the things I used to stay focused on. Sports and social media have taken a backseat to the effort required in seeing the country. And to me it’s totally fine, I am perfectly happy not knowing the baseball standings or the politicians that are fighting with each other. I am not entirely “off the grid” but just using it sparingly.
Heading east on HWY 94 I see a sign for the Enchanted Highway and exit to try and get a glimpse of the metal statues lining the highway. But nothing catches my interest and I turn around to get back on HWY 94 which doesn’t provide much excitement either. I pass windmills standing tall while sunflowers and corn are cut short.
Today’s goal was to see TRNP and stop for the night at a place that would allow for a day’s drive home. Yesterday was a long day, 443 miles with some sightseeing thrown in. But my calculations showed I had to keep that pace if I was to be home when I needed to. I am anxious to see Sheri, but I also have a phone interview on the 4th and it would be easier at the kitchen table that the drivers seat of my car. So, I press on.
Its getting late and my Subway sandwich has worn off, so I need to look for a spot. Survival mode is kicking in and I always get anxious at this time of night when plans aren’t finalized. A sign for the Jamestown Campground announces the necessary exit and I decide that’s our home for the night. A long and dusty access road brings me to the entrance, the welcome center at the back of grassy fields. The signage is leftover from a KOA, affiliations were switched some time ago, but the basic color scheme remains.
The owner reminded me of Santa and he said this was the last week as they were closing the campground for the season. So, I lucked out, or maybe the warm weather was what provided my luck. He said they winter in Hawaii, its where his wife was from, and they were ready to call it a year.
He led me to my site, the old golf cart knowing it was soon set for hibernation. A few spots were taken, but for the most part the camp was empty. We stopped under some trees, the fallen leaves crinkling while we walked. He explained dogs had to always be on a leash which Mabel violated when exiting the car to say hi. Her friendliness wasn’t warmly received, and I retrieved her from the man’s chagrin. There were times on the trip where I looked the other way when it came to Mabel’s containment and this looked like a good spot until the man made it clear he wasn’t a dog person. But there was a large field for Mabel to use, on a leash, and a walking path cut around the property.
I continued setting up and then we explored the path. It was grassy, well mowed, and wet. I could see parts of it used for my haunted house. The moon was out, and the spooky part of the trail travelled through tunnel-like woods. I really love this time of year! Mabel was content to stay in the trailer, more because of warmth than being over our travelling. She still has the same enthusiasm as when we left; she could probably do another trip, but me, not so much.
Realizing this was my last night on the road, I wanted to make the most of it. I figured profound reflections of the journey would come to mind and fond memories would flood my senses with a serenity not present before I left. I expected a similar experience to Survivor, you know when the last three are on the island and they would remember the past tribe members that were voted off. They don’t do it anymore, and I thought it was kind of hokey to get excited about the people kept from winning a million dollars. Tonight, wasn’t like that at all, it felt more like the last night of a deployment and you realize tomorrow you are heading home. The responsibilities were gone, and you were heading back to the known. There is an excitement at the prospect of the “new” beginning, even if it’s just going back to the familiar.
So tonight, as I had a beer and pretzel rods for dinner, I looked at the sky through the trees and thought of home. I knew the nights like this were over, but I didn’t savor it, didn’t try to make it last for as long as I could. Instead I found peace crawling into the camper for the last night as a road warrior and being excited at going home.
Thankful God watched over me to this point.