DAY THREE: Lightheaded from being so high.
Thursday morning dawned bright, clear, and cold. I rolled out of bed for my run, and tried to convince myself that I was looking forward to it. I ate a few pieces of dehydrated pineapple and slugged down some water. It’s been about thirty years since I have been running in the mountains, and even then it wasn’t because I was exercising, but because I was a hyperactive seven-year-old on boring family hikes and running on ahead at least promised the possibility that I could encounter a bear or a mountain lion or something exciting while all by myself.
Anyway, there were no proper running trails that I could find. Most of them were rough hiking trails that looked like they would be happy to break the ankles of any foolish joggers who might be feeling stupid enough to try and run them. So instead I decided to run on the road. The roads in the Black Hills Parks are notoriously bereft of shoulders. I figures that at 6:00AM, though, I would have no problem with traffic, and I was right. Traffic was no problem at all.
What WAS a problem, however, is that I was a 37 year-old, fairly corpulent flatlander trying to run IN THE MOUNTAINS at 3,300 feet elevation. So the roughly 1½ mile course I mapped out and ran twice that day was roughly one eighth of a mile of 20 degree uphill followed by about 100 feet of 30 degree uphill, and then a similar downhill…and then it got trying.
When I got to the top of my first hill, I thought I was having an asthma attack…and realized to my horror that my inhaler was in the pocket of my other set of jogging shorts. Then I remembered – from my childhood – these are simply the sorts of noises that old people make when they are trying to run in the mountains (more so if they are shouting at an elusive seven-year-old).
But then I saw the deer. Five of them, frozen in a hauntingly beautiful tableau in the light mountain mist, surrounded by jackpines and rugged rock out-croppings. They watched me jog past, and only ran when I was actually moving past them. I saw rabbits, and more deer as I ran. Then, as I neared the end of the loop, I saw my five deer again. I went around the loop a second time, and saw them two more times. Evidently, I was chasing them back and forth as I made my appointed rounds.
I thought of my friend, Sue, and how she is given to yelling the word “Beautiful!” whenever we find ourselves running in the middle of natural beauty. I reflected that she would love this run. Then I reached the end of the down slope, and began a long, step climb and I thought about how much she hated hills, and how much she would despise this run. Then, I reached the top of the hill, and there were endorphins. A wall of fuzzy, happy feel-goodedness that nearly lifted me off my feet, and carried me through the rest of my run…and another hour or two after that – when the nausea began. There is this thing called Altitude Sickness. Exertion makes it worse. The Mikes Hard Lemonade I’d had the night before didn’t help either. I pushed on, and the nausea and lightheadedness came and went as we lollygagged along the road to view Bison, Prong-horned Antelope, Wild Turkeys and Prairie Dogs.
Grasshopper had been very keen to see bison in the wild, and seemed a little disappointed at how small they looked from inside Rocky’s monsterous pick-up truck…until a particularly massive bull walked by, his head as high as Grasshopper’s window. Eye contact with that beast made the appropriate and sought-after impression, and Grasshopper was satisfied with the experience. We also had to roll down the windows so that the boys could hear the rumbling noise the bison make. It sounds like several dozen Harley-Davidson engines being revved by impatient bikers. Then we got back on our way to visit Mt. Rushmore, and Jewel Cave.
Grasshopper and Adventure Boy were duly impressed by both, and expressed a desire for further cave-seeing. During the visit to Jewel Cave, Grasshopper completed a workbook that earned him a Junior Ranger badge at the front desk. We returned home for dinner, another swim in Legion Lake, and a small but noisy rainstorm.
DAY FOUR: Grasshopper finds a new life ambition.
We took off fairly early for Wind Cave, another National Park protected cave in the area. Rocky and I had both been to see Wind Cave and Jewel Cave before, and were enjoying the looks on our children’s faces as they explored that underground world. Grasshopper once again completed the Junior Ranger workbook and earned another badge. On top of that, Grasshopper fairly grilled the young Rangers at the front desk about what one must do to become a park ranger, and chose a “Park Ranger Kit” as his souvenir.
The rest of the day was spent lazing around the campsite, watching the fire burn and swimming in Legion Lake. Also, more reading.
DAYS FIVE and SIX: Old friends growing older, and goodbye to an old, though fictional, friend.
Saturday morning Rocky’s alarm clock on his PDA woke me up once again at 6:00AM Mountain Time for my long run. Ordinarily, I would go about ten miles on a long run. Today I was quite proud of five. I ran my 1 ½ mile loop three times. With the ¼ mile I had to run to get to the loop and back, that makes five miles. We packed up our camp and headed back to Mitchell, SD where we would be meeting up with Paul (a friend of mine since kindergarten) and his wife, Katrina.
Paul and Katrina live in Vermillion, SD, but Paul had to be in Mitchell on business and we had to pass through on our way home – viola, a chance to get together with old friends. We passed the afternoon/evening sitting beside the pool watching the kids play and visiting over old times.
Paul has been a grumpy old man since the day I first met in Kindergarten. He has a biting, sardonic wit, that belies his kind, gentle and compassionate soul. He has a bitter cynicism that gently cradles and protects his inner disappointed idealist.
As a social worker he fully knows the best and worst of what human beings are capable of. He never stops expecting the best of them, and is never surprised at the worst they can do.
Six years Katrina’s senior, 40 is already looming large in his vision…two years out. Looking at Paul’s example, I’ve decided that my life might be half over at forty, but I’m not going to look at it that way…because it makes you cross and maudlin and not a lot of fun to talk to late at night…even without alcohol.
Paul was more himself in the morning, however, and we went out to breakfast with them, and they persuaded us to check out the Mitchell Corn Palace.
It was kitschy, cheesy goodness. That’s all I have to say. There is nothing else to say except;
Yes, we went to the Mitchell Corn Palace. We had a good time. You have something you want to say about that Sparky? Come here and say that to my face.
We went back to the campsite, and Katrina and I supervised the boys in one more dip in the pool, while Paul helped Rocky take down the camper. We said our goodbyes, and took off down the road toward home.
Somewhere after crossing the border to Minnesota, we found out what all the fuss was about regarding Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, and the character who dies in the book. After the chapter containing the death, I was going to go on to the next chapter, but Grasshopper stopped me, saying sweetly:
“No, no Mom…I need a moment to adjust. He was my favorite dude.”
Speaking as someone who has created, broken, tortured and killed characters in the course of several stories…it must have been very difficult for J.K. Rowling to do what she did…but it was right and well done. Especially considering my theory that this character engineered his own death as part of a long-term strategy. Perfectly in character, and worthy of the man she had made him to be. There is nothing more fitting.
We arrived home and completely unpacked the camper…including the two small fans that had gone completely unused in a week of nights ranging from perfectly comfortable to slightly chilly.