Insecticide Would Do Just Fine, Thanks.

Trip Start Jun 19, 2010
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Trip End Sep 01, 2010


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Flag of United States  , South Dakota
Thursday, July 15, 2010

DAY TWENTY-FIVE:              

            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.  I find that my arm is numb to my elbow now, but I’m again too tired to worry more than will help anything – we’re hours from any city, anyway – and fall asleep once again.

            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.  At the root of all, atop the beds smoothed by the constant swirling wind, lies a boundlessly abundant collection of dead jewels.  My childhood obsession with basic geology rises to the top once again, and I’m marveling at it all: sheets of sandstone as tough as iron; nuggets of emerald and ketchup-colored agate hinting at worm-like deposits within; military green jasper shiny and brittle as glass, with quartz capillaries strewn about within.  I feel like I’m finding petrified wood and tourmaline and others – that black igneous stone with the white polka dots whose name I have forgotten – but I’m more likely just talking out of nostalgia’s ass.  Nevertheless, it’s all amazing and, in their colorful mimicry of the Sherbet Mountains that roll above them, it is as if they are foot soldiers carrying out the hilly orders, all of them marching toward some sort of Technicolor future; where can I enlist for that?

            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.  I shouldn’t be writing, only viewing, but perhaps that’s representative of something.  Also representative is that the above has happened before 10am, and that there’s another fourteen-odd hours and two states left in the day before this entry is finished.  Not bad.

            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.  Meanwhile, with the wind lashing at us like a whip, we negotiate the four-inch ridges and the falling rocks, until we reach a plateau (for some easier than others, considering that Cornbread and The Beard have each lost their shoes and still take the path of most resistance over the mountain instead of alongside it) that offers three-hundred-and-sixty crisp degrees of the sparsest and most alien land one could ever expect to see.  To your right there’s an oval-shaped field of giant rusty fingers and crumbled mountains, one that might as well have been the ruins to a pre-ancient history’s rounded architecture, revealed like hardened kelp from beneath a sea of time.  To your right, a valley of green that seems to stretch New York, one studded with bald white mountains – it feels like you’re looking at a polarized picture – as well as miniature plateaus bursting out of the grass in fits of frozen violence, reminding of the bureaucratic buildings that ruin Sam Lowry’s dreams in Terry Gilliam’s Brazil (I’m the cinematic Dennis Miller of blog writers).  All together, it feels like we’re on top of the world, and we lie baking in the sun reflecting on that.

            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 ask her for a place to eat, as the whole town offers not a single restaurant, and she points us a ways up the interstate, hardly looking up from her daisies as if chool buses arrive every day or, even if they did, that fellow humans were low on the list of concerns in her day.  I like that, though concede to the feeling that this town may have inspired numerous episodes of The Twilight Zone, particularly because everywhere we drive, we’re dealt with the intrusion of countless – countless – locusts flying in through every window.  Were I a religious fellow, I’d nod toward the Biblical in a fit of terror, but I’m not, and, like that blonde woman, we all continue on our way, casually flinging the pests from our hair and ankles and glasses and chairs and floors and roof and window frames and bus as if they were the bangs in our eyes.  We arrive on a tiny shack, the ground slithering and hopping like a green trampoline, and order burgers and fries from a bored twentysomething too shy or unaffected to look up from her docket.  They serve Mellow Yellow and Coca-Cola in Mason jars spilling over with ice, and this unsettled hunger and resolved heat must sit while we flip through Smithsonian Magazine and local newspapers in the only collective silence we’ve shared over the entire trip.  The burgers are universally disappointing, even with gobs of Sri-ra-cha sauce, and I’m left picking the pickles off of Tristan’s plate.

            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!
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Comments

Bryan Karas on

Tell Rob to call me! Love the blog by the way. Definitely living vicariously through you guys.

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