Then the Rains Came

Day 24 – Emily’s Entry - May 6 – 7:05am - Thunder Basin National Grassland, Wyoming

Rain in the best of times, rain in the worst of times. These past 3 days we have been off road. We stayed the night in the Thunder Basin National Grassland. Yesterday, we drove down a road we thought led somewhere until the road abruptly ended on a plateau overlooking canyons. Honestly, we’re very wet, cold, tired, and grungy. I’d rather not talk about it.

Day 26 – Corey’s Entry – May 8 – 8:20am – Sioux Falls, South Dakota

If you laugh, you think, and you cry, that’s a full day. That’s a heck of a day. You do that seven days a week, you’re going to have something special.
— Jimmy Valvano

For those of you looking over our route map, you won’t find Sioux Falls, South Dakota on the route. I’ll explain:

Currently, my hands are sore, dry, and cracking at the fingertips. My clothes and shoes are mud-caked. I am tired and feeling beaten. A major storm blew through the Midwest and has given us a beating.

On our way to the Thunder Basin National Grassland in Wyoming we got lost and couldn’t find a sign. We drove past mining gear, railroads, and signs that read “Warning: Blast Zone”. It didn’t feel we were in a National Park.  After some rough exchanges with digital maps, we used our printed maps and finally found a small, red dirt road with a little sign. By this time, the landscape was getting dark and we could see the clouds weighing down. At one point, eight National Forest Service trucks blocked the ancient, rocky road. After some dicey country boy maneuvers, we got around them and parked atop a flat area surrounded by large rocks jutting out of the ground and short cactuses. The road simply ended. Emily made the choice to call that spot Home for the night.

My mind was split at that point. Emily got a kick out this watching me pace back and forth. The methodic part of me was saying, “Stop. We have to get to the right spot somehow. This isn’t right.” The wild part of me was screaming, “Be wild! Be free! Be adventurous!” I must have walked several circles around the car, like a dog making a bed, before I finally settled on making camp in an unexpected, wild place.

The wind, my God, the wind was howling and blowing hard with light, monotonous rain. We decided to sleep in the car because if lightning struck us, we thought we’d be safer than the tent. It was funny watching Emily fumble into her giant sleeping bag fighting with the steering wheel. All night we tossed and turned trying to get comfortable. It turned into a night full of mini naps. The following morning, the car windows dripped with moisture. I couldn’t photograph due to the fog and rain. Not being able to shoot for a few days really started to get to me.

May 6, we drove into South Dakota and were greeted by a giant Midwest storm. We set up camp at Sage Creek Campground outside the Badlands. As the storm picked up, we scrambled to the wet car to make a cold dinner. During our modest dinner, we watched a buffalo we named Buff eat grass as we shared sips out of a honey whiskey bottle. When I had to use the restroom, I had two options: I could run through the storm to the restroom 30 feet away, or head to the field where Buff was glaring his cross-eyed stare at me. I chose the restroom. Buff was pleased I didn’t approach him.

After a phone call to our weather lady (thanks, Mom), we realized the storm wasn’t giving up. We raced to the tent. Our dry, warm sleeping bags felt safe as strong gusts hit the tent. We held each other and braved the stormy night.

In the foggy morning, our drying rags were wet and everything is touched by mud. On our way out, feeling defeated, we saw a Toyota with wheels spinning in a muddy field just off the road. Without hesitation, we pulled over. A cool guy named Hector stepped out into the mud. I’m sure they were hoping for a country boy in a big pick up truck, but here we were two photographers in a packed Subaru with nobody else around. He and his girl Sydney had their tires four inches deep in mud all around. I saw a rotting, wooden cow pen, and we pulled a couple boards to put under the front wheels. This helped a bit, but still stuck, Emily thinks to use the car carpets under the tires. We also placed some grass from the field under the tires and pushed from the back as Sydney drove forward. Mud covered me from head to toe as we pushed the car to solid ground. Whoo! We needed a win, and it felt good.

Now we’re in a hotel getting our heads on straight. We received some looks hauling trash bags full of muddy clothes and wet gear into the hotel. I know we’ve deviated from our route, but we’ll be back to it tomorrow, with a new hard top carrier (our soft top carrier busted, leaked, and soaked everything up top).

Though it was rough and miserable weather, we kept each other’s spirits up. When I was down, Emily would take lead and lift me up and vice versa. We just finished listening to Where the Red Fern Grows and I can’t help but compare the dogs Old Dan and Little Ann with us. Always together, never apart, treat each other’s wounds, and figure out every challenge together. We’re determined and can’t wait to get back on the road.