Feb 13, 2011

The assault on Bomber Mountain - 4, Badlands to Big Horns

ride through the rings
Journal notes for our evening in the Badlands:

8:36 pm – Fish says he’s spent from driving and tucking to bed.  Sherpa and I roll our eyes, what a wimp.

8:38 pm – Fish is flapping around in his tent.  What in heaven’s name is he doing in there? Sherpa and I ready our miner lamps.  On the count of three, we unzip Fish's tent and flip on the lights to neutralize the disturbance. 

8:39 pm – Sherpa lets out an uncomfortable yelp. Fish is rolling around in his bag, to our dismay, he's wearing what appears to be a birthday suit. “Pardon me, do you have any Gray Poupon?” I ask.  I'll give Fish the benefit of the doubt and say he's “changing into his jammies.”

8:41 pm – Fish removes himself from the tent, avoids direct eye contact and tells us “I feel better now, I’ll stay up for awhile longer.”

We unrolled the sleeping pads beneath the stars and traced constellations pulsing above the horizon.  At this point I realized my self inflating air mattress was malfunctioning. The three of us are not absolute morons, yet fumbled with the air valve for 15 minutes.  Ready to give up and chalk it to a defect, I offered the ludicrous idea of trying blow to the device up with my mouth.  228 puffs, seal the valve and low and behold, it held air.  I'm no pneumatic engineer, but was under the impression “self inflating” means it magically auto-fills when you twist open the nozzle.  Incorrect in my assessment, I announced “got it, the self in self inflating is referring to myself.” We laughed, talked planets for an hour then retired.

Saturday, August 26
3:00 am, I awake to the tiny scurrying of a busy rodent outside my tent.  I hear it twitching around, mousing for grub. Then my ears detect the tiniest little puff of piss, a teensy “ppssff”.  That filthy beast urinated on my tentOh well, half ounce at most, we're good. 

Fish is toddler-like in his propensity to rise at the buttcrack of dawn, bright eyed and loud in his goings about to ensure everybody else wakes up.  I'm not a morning person, I could use some squirts of melatonin, it takes me 20 minutes to get both eyes fully open.  Fish and Sherpa were already dressed and cuddling with a nearby mule deer when I groggily emerged from the nylon dome.  

our campground
 We packed our gear and headed over to the park diner for breakfast.  We understood this would be our last real vittles for a week, we'd soon head into nature and dine on jungle rat and ramen.  We forked through giant Oglala omelets, thin meat and veggies folded into eggs, smothering a traditional Native American Indian fried flatbread.  It was excellent!

Sherpa and I snagged a couple souvenirs for our brats, then headed out to explore the alien landscape. 
Fish grew up in South Dakota and  visited the Badlands several times, he repeatedly warned us to slather sunscreen and be prepared for Hades temps.  To his surprise, we awoke to a cloudy 60-degree day.  It was a cool, comfortable morning in Hades. 
The Badlands are surreal, slightly spooky and look like they were shipped here on a barge from Mars.  The sterile hills are the silted remains of an evaporated lake, a photo negative of the Grand Canyon. Tall piles of rocky sand layer upwards, the inverse of earth eroding away from a nibbling stream.

Fish abandoned us at a nondescript trailhead, then peeled away and parked the car at the end of the trail a couple miles up the road.  Sherpa and I had a great hike and conversation. We gathered a small collection of rocks along the way and carried them with us for our two-mile walk. 

We caught up to Fish near the end of the trail, he asked: 

“Whatcha got there?” 

“Uh, these are called rocks.” 

“Well, there might be a ranger up there, and he won’t like the fact that you are snagging souvenirs. Put ‘em in your pockets.” 

“But they are too big,” we protested. 

I glanced over and saw Sherpa stuffing small boulders down the back of his pants.  I copied, ramming rocks into the rear crack of my Levis. We trekked another quarter mile with pounds of pebbles lining our pants.  No ranger was found, I think Fish set us up.  
Exiting the Badlands, we tallied the tick marks for a total of 81 Wall Drug signs by the time we entered the town of Wall.  Wall Drug's surely blown through their advertising budget every year for the entire 75 years their doors have been swinging. “We’ll hit Wall Drug on the way home,” said Fish. 

Out of the blue, Fish asks, “You ever heard the joke about the Christian, the Agnostic and the Hindu that trek up a mountain?” I knew what he was getting at, a metaphor for myself, Fish and Sherpa. We posses vast differences in background, beliefs, religion and politics, yet we somehow manage to hang out without strangling each other.  We hung tough together the entire week, our small contingent represents the American melting pot.

sunflowers, not corn, flanking the pavement before crossing into Wyoming
We clicked off another 300 miles and noticed the first rise of the mountains on the horizon at the 850 mile mark. “Fellas, welcome to the Big Horns!” announced Fish.  We snapped outta our trance after pounding miles through the barren lands of Wyoming. Hundreds of miles of no farms, cities, crops or animals, nada. Instead, we spotted steel arms, pipes and hydraulic claws drinking and scraping up oil, natural gas and coal from the Earth.  

Sherpa and Fish celled their families one last time to say goodbye and to finalize wills.  I tried to reach Pigtails, but Sprint's coverage in Wyoming was crummy.  I wasn’t able to talk to her like I promised before heading into the wilderness.  I hoped she'd understand.

Big Horns in back

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