Insecticide Would Do Just Fine, Thanks.
Trip Start Jun 19, 2010
74Trip End Sep 01, 2010
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What a morning.
With no one suffering, hopefully, from tapeworm, we settle to bed with some cots up and Greg's featured debut on the roof and I, sleeping on the bench, wake feeling like the back of my mind was left on some kettle too long, and since I have no recollection of drinking over the last few days (or at least no recollection remaining of that recollection), I chalk it up to getting bit by some dreadfully poisonous insect, flex my hand for swelling and, without much sign for concern fall back asleep to worry about in the morning. In the early morning the electrical storms arrive, and Greg’s massive figure, which had been rocking the bus back and forth all night leading to this, comes falling from through the hatch, landing wet with a thud to wake me up
Now I’m woken by two long, angry honks, and blink to see a park ranger’s truck just outside my window. I rise in my underoos and quickly throw on some shorts and the biggest conciliatory grin I can muster "Good morning!" He prods me verbally from a downward-turning mustache, and I can’t help but notice the AK standing beside his shotgun. “No, no, officer, we got here very late, couldn’t find the campsite, and just decided to pull over,” I offer. “Yes, sir, but my friend led us through the back road with his iPhone, and we really didn’t know where we were, it was so dark,” I plead. “I know it’s illegal, sir, but to be fair, it was a miserable place to sleep, anyway, so I think we got what we deserved, don’t you?” By the end he’s taking my backpedals in stride, we’re friendly, and he warns us for future reference to avoid such practice. I nod and promise to leave immediately, and once he’s gone we throw on our sandals and go for a hike down the hill.
We march through a field, the wind shaking the barley, and crickets burst forth, catching the sun, from the rustling grass in hundreds to where it looks like you’re in a Japanese animated film. After a few hundred yards, we get to our viewpoint, and before us spread an endless array of melting clay cupcakes, all pastel and cartoonish in the sun. We hike down one of them, all of which are really just vibrant dried mud, and get to the foot of the action
The wind that harasses the Badlands, all told, seems to explain its Martian appearance, where its valleys are all honeycombed and seussical and exponentially sedimentary. It looks as if alien wasps the size of our bus had taken over a landmass the size of Maryland and lain their crooked nests in millions all over the landscape. We’re listening to Wolfmother off of Tristan’s collection – mine has fallen into the infinite void within the cracks of the bus, and must be unearthed soon, as he’s otherwise playing club music and punk at 9am and it’s driven me to the back of the bus, clutching his headphones over my harassed ears – and in this case, the razor-like guitars cut through the scenery with stark appropriateness
With my nose deep into my laptop with beautiful scenery whooshing past me as usual, I decide to grab hold of the day before it’s gone, and we go for a hike through the soft clay honeycomb hills of the Badlands (so-named by the French for their windy, barren, unforgiving qualities). Because of its soft features and ancient marine past, fossils can be found anywhere, as the parks service likes to remind its visitors. We all hit a quieter, crag-like region and sprint up the red and white ice cream clay, the guys with their heads wrapped in t-shirts, looking quite the part of the ruffians we seem to be. Occasionally a post marks the path, but up here, paths are meaningless, as there’s hardly any plant life to trample, and if a feature seems insurmountable, step on it and it’ll crumble its way into being a path, then renew itself by next rainfall. For that reason, we each attack the mountain from a different angle, and near the top, Tristan finds yet another half-buried skeleton getting bleached by the sun. It’s bloody skull smiles at all of us, and we invite him to be our friend by clipping him with a carabiner to Pearl’s grill
From Badlands we cruise across half of the state, our stomachs churning for a bite to eat, eventually stopping in a small, whitewashed town that never seems to see visitors and appears to have only one citizen, a blonde woman that waters a tiny patch of garden in front of a giant refinery of some sort
We continue to traverse the rest of the state, and I want to make a special mention here to a very deserving place called Murdo, which must try harder than any other I’ve seen, by way of roadside billboards, to attract visitors. Their main attraction being a Pioneer Car Museum, which boasts the Original General Lee (from Dukes of Hazzard?), as well as, “muscle cars, rocks and gems, and free Internet). Perhaps thirty different signs beckon this limited amount of information in their different ways, and one can really appreciate the effort, but it’s not enough, and as Navin and I chat away about the prospect of Oakland and the end of industry, we cruise into the tiny town of Chamberlain (which boasts a raven-colored, turn-of-the-century cinema that had me drooling) for the Missouri River. To Cornbread, swimming in the Missouri is a bit of a dream, so we find a less-crowded bank, strip down to our skivvies like Mark Twain characters and dive in for a swimming race around the confluence of the Missouri and the American. Flashy iron bridges loom over us, spanning the enormity of the great body of water, and as the green sludge laps up into our eyes and into our mouths, we try not to ponder after all the waste being pumped into her as she travels down the continent, and only enjoy ourselves. We towel off and I head to a local shop to buy some beer to help combat what has become an extremely powerful sun, and make friends with a Dakota cashier who must be The Biggest Indian In The World.
After a laze in the beautiful sun (and while Shmark shares a deep and meaningful conversation with a local and her dog), Navin discovers a drive-in theater in the town of Mitchell, so we all pile in, say our goodbyes, and rush to catch the ten o’clock showing
After a quick stop at a market for sandwiches and carrots and hummus and more beer, Navin’s incredible phone leads us to the old theater and I try to thread the entryway, which was obviously not designed for a school bus. They charge $8/person, which is obviously too much, so Shmark hides in the box while The Beard hops out of the bus and sneaks over the wall and we cruise past the “No Outside Food Or Alcohol” sign clutching our goods – we’re rebels, is what I mean for you to gleam for this – and try to wrench our way between those ubiquitous drive-in poles so present in everyone’s memory bank. We hedge the heat against the clouds of mosquitoes outside, and with sealed windows and cold beer, we enjoy a showing of Toy Story 3, in which Woody loses sight of the ball altogether, clutching and clawing for Andy while Buzz slides right in and steals his woman. Pixar is great, though, and I meanwhile think that if I’m going to live in LA, I’m going to need them to return to drive-in theaters. If not, I’ll at least screen them in my yard: what do you say? Summer moons and new cartoons, my friends: lovely.
With Navin’s magic beacon we leave the theater and feel around the darkness. He is following our path with a satellite feed, though we’re surrounded only by corn and farmhouses, and we eventually settle in on a riverside spot deep in the thicket where symphonies of buzzing and chirping exoskeletons await us. After a good hour popping mosquitoes plump with red kroovy, leaving some farmer’s DNA streaked on our hands and all over the roof, we seal ourselves against those monstrous leeches as they laugh through our sweat and leave a trail of welts behind them. I should say that my father recommended that we install screens in the windows, and, because I'm a family man, that 25 is my brother's lucky number. Hooray for familal irrelevance!