Monday, May 30, 2011

To the Black Hills and Back

Our Memorial Day Weekend journey started as soon as Zack arrived home from school on Friday.  Zack gets off the bus around 3:40PM and is normally home by 3:45PM.  Once he arrived home, I finished up some work and then got rounded up any remaining stuff we needed to take with us.  I had loaded the bikes in the car earlier in the day so that nasty job was already done.

By the time we were ready to go, rush hour was unfortunately in full swing.  The first hour and a half of our drive only saw us clear the metro area.  But after that it was clear sailing.  The drive was fantastic!  I had never before driven north of Cheyenne, Wyoming on I-25.  The scenery once you pass Cheyenne is unbelievable.  We traveled about 100 miles north of Cheyenne before turning to the east near Lusk, Wyoming and then taking a variety of back roads for almost 150 miles until we reached Rapid City, SD.  The funny thing about this drive was the names of some of the towns we passed.  My favorite was Chugwater, Wyoming.  Who would have named a town Chugwater?

We arrived at our hotel in Rapid City around 11:40PM.  We got checked in and took a bit of time to relax before we hit the hay.  Morning came way too early as my nephew Cole was outside knocking on our door at 8:30AM.  Ouch - we were still pretty darn tired!  Regardless we got up and joined, Cole, Tim and Celinde for breakfast at the restaurant's free breakfast.  During breakfast we made arrangements to join up with the other family who came to South Dakota with us.  Amy, Jeff and their kids had stayed at a cabin in Custer State Park.  We made plans to meet up with them at the Dumont Trailhead on the George S. Mickleson Bike trail.  (I could and probably will dedicate an entire blog post to the Mickleson Bike Trail as it is so excellent.  But for today - I will just refer you to the website for the trail if you are interested.  The website is:

 Our plan was to ride from the Dumont Trail Head to the Rocheford Trail Head.  We all arrived at the Dumont Trail Head around Noon.  The trip on the trail from Dumont to Rocheford would pretty much be all down hill.  So Tim and I set up a shuttle by taking his car to the Rocheford Trail Head.  This would allow us to ride to Rocheford and then retrieve Jeff's and my car from the Dumont Trail Head.

The ride on the trail was excellent.  The trail follows the former right-of-way of a Burlington Northern railroad track.  It takes you through some exceedingly beautiful terrain.  On this segment of the trail you cross many bridges and go through a tunnel.  Even despite the young ages of some of the kids (Jeff and Amy's kids are 6 and 8 I believe) everyone did great and had a really fun time.  We had packed lunches for everyone so we stopped about half way through the ride and had some lunch.  All-in-all, it was a great adventure and everyone had fun!

After we left the bike trail we headed to Hill City to get some ice cream for the kids.  All the adults ended having some too!  But after a day out in the cold wind pedaling away, we all deserved the treat!

From there we headed to the big event of the weekend - Mount Rushmore.  We arrived at Mount Rushmore around 6:00PM so the crowds for the day had already thinned out.  It was truly an impressive sight, but I will admit, I was really thinking it was going to be much larger.  When you see Mount Rushmore in pictures you think it is massive.  When you see it close up, it doesn't seem that massive.  Now don't let my opinion make you think that I didn't enjoy it - as I did.  It was just not as big as I thought it would be.

We headed back to our hotel in Rapid City and got some dinner and had a few drinks.   Before you knew it, the evening had faded away and it was already 10:00PM.  We all were exhausted so we got some shuteye for the night.

Waking up at 7:00AM on Sunday morning was not pleasant as the entire world had turned gray.  It was like all the clouds had come to down to the earth and were spraying rain everywhere.  My original plans for the day - a trip to the Badlands National Park were out of the question as we would have seen nothing.  So instead for the first part of the day we stayed at the hotel and experienced their in-door waterpark.  For an in-door waterpark it was pretty impressive!  It wasn't the size of Waterworld in Denver, but they still had some pretty darn impressive slides, pools and other water attractions.  We spent most of the morning and part of the afternoon there.  Zack of course didn't want to leave, but by 12:30 I was pretty waterlogged and needed to dry out.

After the water park, Zack and I made an attempt to visit Jewel Cave National Monument.  This National Monument is located about 50 miles west of Rapid City.  We had a very enjoyable drive to Jewel Cave through Custer State Park.  We actually saw several buffalo roaming free in the park even despite the horrible down pour.  As we headed further west the rain gradually stopped.  Unfortunately when we reach Jewel Cave, we found out that all tour groups were already sold out of the day.  NO FUN!  We made the best of it and since it was only spitting rain there we took a hike through the woods of the National Monument.  It was a nice hike that skirted an area that had obviously burned in a forest fire a number of years ago.

We then headed back through Custer City and grabbed some lunch at a little bakery cafe right on main street.  I loved being able to sample the local cuisine.  We had some good sandwiches and then found our way to the local candy store. Almost every piece of candy in the store was hand made at the store.  It was great!  Unfortunately, I pigged out and had 4 huge pieces of chocolate.  Silly me!!

The rest of the day was spent driving back to Rapid City, getting some dinner and then hanging out in the Waterparrk Arcade.  We got to bed somewhat early, but I stay up until midnight watching TV.  The alarm went off awfully early when it rang at 5:40AM.  I ended up hitting snooze until about 6:20AM.  I finally got up and got things moving.  We walked out of the hotel around 7:10AM and after fueling up and getting some breakfast at the local Flying J truck stop we were on the road by 7:30AM.

The rain finally ended for us by the time we reach Hill City, SD.  We were rain free until we were about 60 miles outside of Cheyenne.  Then we went through some hellishly nasty rain for about 50 miles.  After that it was an easy drive except for the wind from Cheyenne to Denver.  The wind was very strong and nearly knocked me off the road numerous times.  That is saying something given I was driving our Explorer which is a heavy car.  After a stop for lunch in Cheyenne we arrived home around 2:15PM.

We had a great trip and I am sure that Zack and I will go back to South Dakota again - maybe even this year.  There is still so much for us to see and experience there.  Perhaps we will do a Labor Day trip to the Black Hills!

One other thing I noticed from this trip is just the sense of loneliness that I live in.  During much of our driving around in South Dakota, Zack was in the car with Tim, Celinde and Cole - leaving me to drive all by myself.  I guess I am acutely noticing my lack of a spouse/partner when it is always Zack and me alone or ever worse - just myself.  It is a strange change in life to be in a position where most of who and what you are is defined by your relationship to your spouse/partner and then to go into a situation where you are totally alone.  I admit that I am getting tired of being alone.  No matter what I do it seems in the end run that I am alone.  It was never that way before Patty got sick, but it is my life now.  I can't say that I am pleased with my current existence in that respect.  Oh well - for now I have to deal - perhaps that will change in the future.

I hope everyone had a great Memorial Day Weekend.

Thanks and peace to all! ~ J.