Frequently since my stroke and for about the year before, after a very hard break up, I wake up and have to remind myself that waking up is a gift alone. And I try to look for the good in the day, the week, the month. Some days it is a struggle because so much has changed and it continues to change.
The trip to South Dakota was one thing I had planned and looked forward to for a long time. I don’t know how much time I have left to participate fully in life. None of us do. So I try to use the “now” to the fullest extent. From the moment we hit the road heading to Minnesota, the moments became the now and I was fully engaged. Excited to share the sights, sounds and smells of the trip with my son, mom, sister and niece, the moments were starting off sweet.
Due to an accumulation of factors, we made the first stop of our trip later in the day than planned. It was a beautiful evening and we were camping on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi.
Still, we struggled with the tent in the dark and the Minnesota mosquitoes were merciless. We were road-weary and bug bitten but I was ecstatic to be alive! I need these moments.
Finally the tent is up, the bug spray applied and we had a small campfire going. And I’m sure the Park Ranger was flirting with me during check in. The dogs were mostly content and I was in love with the world. I fell asleep hard in the screen porch of the tent with my boy snoring softly feet away.
Day 2: we were up and packed by 9 am. Wow. Good coffee in the new camp percolator and the woods were alive with a symphony of bird songs. It was almost deafening but an amazing way to begin the day. And so we set off across the flatlands of Minnesota, confronted with pure prairie and vastness. Seeing the results of time and geology amazes me. I think my mom and sister were also impressed. We were close to our destination with plenty of daylight left in this day. We got into a fight with Samantha of GPS. We won and found Palisades state park. I highly recommend this place for camping. Beautiful campsites, clean and spacious facilities, and after a stern lecture from my sister, the campground attendant should be more vigilant on keeping the lights out time enforced.
Electricity at the site allowed for better inflation of air mattresses and the potential for good sleeping. Except for the loud drunken neighbor campers. Still, it was a spectacular evening with a great fire and s’mores and chili. This day and night….another gift for sure.
Mom made a friend who was passing through just like us and had some real grown up time for a while. They shared coffee the next morning and this nice woman took my son and neice just down the path to rescue some feral kittens. We almost left with one. Paulie and Louis were in favor of another passenger. But all of the micro furballs left with our new friend to go to a rescue some where.
We got packed and were on the road again by noon. We were in South Dakota now and the landscape was magical. We made a number of stops along the way for stretching, eating and taking in the sights. Tried to imagine Louis and Clark seeing all of this for the first time. Instead it was Louis and Paulie peeing on prairie grass at rest stops.
We got to the Badlands after another argument with “turn left” Samantha and drove through time and wonder. We emerged amazed and for me impacted greatly and made our way to Custer State Park. The luggage on my jeep hitch rack apparently hid my license plate. Close to our destination, Deputy J pulled us over to determine if we were on the run. He gave us a warning which was more like an apology and sent us on our way. We arrived at the Game Lodge camping area soon after and found our reserved site occupied by a squatter. We tackled him and chased him off (or he just left when he realized it was our site, things started getting fuzzy on the third day.) We got the tent up, Kel my niece and Grayson, my son had become set up and tear down pros.
A quick rain storm and then a beautiful evening. Full moon and stars every where. No need for the rain fly tonight. Or so I thought! 2:00 am thunderstorm caught us asleep but the troops mobilized and got the fly on and got back to sleep with the music of thunder and fireworks of lightning providing the back drop.
The next morning we agreed to head to Mount Rushmore
and then come up with a plan from there. My sister needed to get back to Milwaukee for a flight back to PA. Instead of staying another night in Custer we needed to start the road trip back and get as far east as we could that evening and finish the trip the following day. We packed we prepared for it and we got ready to set off. We had just enough time to take a quick drive on the Wild Life Loop. We were rewarded with glimpses of pronghorns, white-tailed deer and buffalo! It was a great ending to the stay at the site. We went back to camp and picked up mom and my sister, the dogs and the gear and headed out.
By my recommendation we headed back on a different route which would take us back through the Badlands and the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, one of the stops we would miss because of our change in the itinerary.
Turns out the alternate route was a dirt road under construction. Sherpa Jeep don’t care about dirt roads and we were off.
As the sun began to drop and the road continued to stretch on, GPS Sam continued to tell us to turn left…into nowhere….into dessert…into rock walls or over cliffs. We rejected her advice and ultimately cut her power. Following the moon and the stars and our greatly irritable intuition, we made our way through the reservation, stopping only to let dogs pee and stretch our own limbs, oh and to avoid the runaway horses that were in the road.
We found a place to eat and a Super 8 to sleep and decompress. We needed it. In the midst of sleep, food deprivation, frustration and bitterness wake up all of the sleeping demons (I mean, why should THEY get to sleep?!) And so we vomited up our grudges in a dark parking lot of a Super 8. What great family road trip couldn’t use a good regurgitation?
I love my family, I do. But from a very early age I can remember having to make a daily choice to be happy. It’s not the way I was wired. I can easily see the hopelessness and the despair. I have spent most of my life and tried to use all of my life experiences to be a grateful and positive person. I have my family to thank for giving me such a solid foundation that has allowed me to seek and to understand my path, even when they do not. And I am still not wise enough or spiritually evolved enough to understand their paths.
We pulled into Milwaukee about 10:00 pm and brought the road trip to an end. Somehow I am confident that it hasn’t ended and will continue to poke at the demons who are trying their hardest to go back to sleep. That’s okay. Why should they get to sleep?