2006 ULTRA RUNNING ADVENTURES

   
 
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  THE ROAD TO WYOMING  
  
TUESDAY, MAY 30
 
 
"The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes,
but in having new eyes."     - Marcel Proust
 
 
 

It's amazing what you can see new each time you travel the same route. I haven't always had this skill, and I'm still learning to develop it.

It's so easy on a familiar route, such as driving to work every day, to focus your mind on just about everything else other than the scenery you're passing - organizing your thoughts for the work day ahead, thinking about family obligations, planning what you'll be doing that evening. Of course, if you're the one who's driving, you need to focus primarily on, well, driving safely. But there's still a lot you can see around you and not run into someone else - if you look carefully.

After Jim and I retired and moved to our new home in Virginia two years ago, I made a conscious effort to really see the beautiful countryside around Roanoke. We live about fifteen miles from our favorite trails and even farther from town. Every time I drive or ride (as a passenger) those roads, I try to see something new. It's like a game for me.

Although we haven't driven between the East and West coasts nearly that often, it now takes several hands to count the times we've been on I-64, I-70, I-80, and I-90 on our way to and from the Rocky Mountain and Pacific Coast states. And it's cool to see what new things we can see each time we do it.

We found all kinds of things we didn't remember from previous trips on our way from St. Louis, Missouri to Sheridan, Wyoming the past two days. Twelve hundred miles of stuff.

Jim likes to nap when I'm driving. Talk about courage and trust! (Just kidding. I'm a good driver. Isn't everyone??) He gets bored when he's not behind the wheel, and the motion lulls him to sleep almost as quickly as it does Cody (black Lab) and Tater (yellow Lab), shown snoozing in the back seat of the truck yesterday:

I don't like to nap when Jim's driving - or anyone else, for that matter. It has nothing to do with trusting the person who's driving. It has everything to do with not wanting to miss out on seeing something new or interesting.

For example, I might have missed the unusual metal sculptures in several fields along I-90 in Wyoming if I'd been asleep. That's not something you see every day! Or the antique fire engine advertising a brewery in Rapid City, South Dakota:

What old fire engine, you ask? The one on the right that I almost completely missed in this shot! Hey, Jim was driving about 70 MPH (about as fast as we should go with a fifth-wheel camper attached) and I'm lucky the camera lens and shutter opened fast enough to get even that much of the truck. Since Jim's a volunteer fireman, we thought the truck was pretty interesting sitting out there in a field and not in a museum somewhere.

FINDING HUMOR EVERYWHERE

Jim and I usually have a lot of fun when we're traveling. You can find humor in the strangest places if you look and if you have a silly side. I'll give you some examples from this leg of our journey:

  • There are funny signs by people who can't spell correctly (like "Dick's 24-Hour Toe Service" in South Dakota, which conjures up various questions and connotations);

  • signs so tacky they are humorous (the "Eat Here/Get Gas" variety - yes, we saw that one - or the billboards in central Missouri for the Jaycees' 13th Annual Testicle Festival in downtown Olean);

  • ironic contexts (such as the sign for a ski area in flat, western Iowa along I-29, or the exit sign for "239th Street" at mile marker 117 in the middle of nowhere in South Dakota - is that to make New Yorkers feel right at home??); 

  • animals being goofy (cows playing "king of the hill" on large dirt piles in their field; is there a better breeze ten feet higher, or do cows have a social hierarchy?);

  • unusual road names (how would you like to live on County Road PP in Missouri, one of at least two states we know that use the alphabet to name local roads? Wisconsin also does this.);

  • odd town names (e.g., Knob Noster, Missouri);

  • goofy things radio broadcasters say ("We'll have to deal with a lot of sunshine today," as if that's a problem??);

  • even malodorous farms and industries ("Phew!! Jim, was that you?" "No, must've been Tater." Typical Jim-and-Sue banter when encountering nasty-smelling manure, paper mills, etc.).

You get the idea. When we're traveling, we sound more like twelve-year-old siblings than the mature middle-aged husband and wife that we are. <snicker>

Having fun makes the time go faster. Lord knows it can be boring traveling six hundred miles a day on a freeway through sparsely-populated prairie land. Kitschy tourist traps don't tempt us (Reptile Gardens? The Cosmos Mystery Area??) but we are amused by the passing billboards for Doo Wah Ditty's Diner, those primitive metal sculptures in fields, prairie dog preserves, a trading post with "America's largest collection of New Guinea art" (in American Indian territory, wouldn't you think they'd emphasize their art?), "wildlife" parks (why can't they just leave them wild??), and the like.

WE'VE BEEN TRAPPED!

On my first trip with Jim on I-90 when I moved to Montana several years ago, he showed me two of the more interesting tourist traps along I-90 in South Dakota: the Corn Palace in Mitchell and Wall Drug, in the town of Wall. On subsequent trips we are amused by all their advertising along the otherwise endless stretch of road across the width of this high prairie state.

Neither of us has been inside the ornate Corn Palace, an interesting tribute to South Dakota's agricultural heritage. It was entertaining and educational to simply peruse the design and pictures on the outside of this unusual, colorful building. The exterior decorations are stripped down and new murals are created each year with thousands of bushels of grains and grasses (corn, wheat, rye, wild oats, straw, etc.). Here is a small photo of the exterior, courtesy of www.cornpalace.org

The first Corn Palace was built in 1892 during the Corn Belt Exposition. This display of the state's harvests became an annual event. The current building dates back to 1921 and serves as a multi-purpose center for the community and region (stage shows, sports events, etc.).

We boon-docked last night a few blocks away at the Wal-Mart in Mitchell (the nearby Cabela's parking lot would have been darker and quieter). I wish we'd gone over this morning to see what the Corn Palace faade looks like this year, but I didn't think about it until we were several miles down the road.

Wall Drug defies description. It is a hodgepodge of everything from 5 coffee and homemade donuts and ice cream to Western clothing and knick-knacks and fake gunslingers fighting the local sheriffs - even fake dinosaurs! It's fun to walk through and you don't have to spend any money if you have an ounce of self-control (and self-respect!).

Back about sixty years ago, the Hustead family was having trouble making ends meet in their small-town pharmacy business. Someone got the bright idea to offer free ice water to passing motorists (long before I-90 was built). They put a sign out by the road. Story goes, they sold more goods in that one day than they had in the entire past five years!

Pretty good advertisement for advertising, huh??

Must be. The place has grown to cover four city blocks. Wall Drug advertises itself on all seven continents and their billboards and signs have become pop culture symbols. There are dozens of signs on I-90 for hundreds of miles to amuse or annoy passing motorists. They are about as ubiquitous as the old Burma Shave signs used to be, although they aren't placed consecutively to read like a poem or sentence like those signs did.

Guess what? You can still get free ice water and 5 coffee at Wall Drug!

ON A MISSION

Other places we saw advertised sounded interesting, such as a tribal headquarters and various historical museums commemorating the Lewis and Clark expedition, e.g - we basically followed the Missouri River through Missouri, Iowa, and South Dakota - but we were on a mission to get 1,200 miles in two days hauling the camper behind us (read: slower than in a passenger vehicle). We stopped only to eat, go to the bathroom, and change drivers. The photos below are from the moving truck.

The terrain across southern South Dakota morphed from fairly flat, fertile farmland full of grains and big round hay bales in the eastern half . . .

. . . to increasingly hilly rangeland full of sage brush and cattle, culminating in the cooler, heavily forested Black Hills area in the far southwestern corner of the state near Rapid City. That's my favorite part of South Dakota.

We didn't go through the starkly beautiful Badlands National Park (been there) or the historically significant Mt. Rushmore and Deadwood in the Black Hills area (done that) this trip. These adjacent areas are a popular destination for vacations.

 There used to be a 50- and 100-mile trail race through the Black Hills on the Michelson Trail, but I don't believe any ultras are held there any more. Several years ago we ran the paved marathon in the Black Hills so we could get South Dakota in our quest to accumulate states in the Fifty States and D.C. club.

I-90 in eastern Wyoming also contains high plateau rangeland between the Black Hills and the Bighorn Mountain Range, where I-90 takes a right and heads north through Sheridan. We exited the freeway just nine miles south of the Montana border to reach our present destination, Dayton, Wyoming, at the foot of the Bighorn National Forest. 

I CAN SEE FOR MILES AND MILES . . .

We are always struck by the dramatic, expansive views in the western U.S. The sky truly seems bigger. The air is more clear, the views are often 360 degrees. Although Montana is dubbed "Big Sky Country," the feeling is the same in other wide-open western states like South Dakota and Wyoming. You need a wide-angle camera to do justice to the panoramic vistas! We don't have one, but I'll do my best to convey the feeling in photos this summer.

Anyone who lives in a congested city or suburban area that hasn't experienced topography like this would probably have difficulty grasping the desolation and enormity of it all. Population is so sparse in some areas along I-90 that a few ranches have their own private freeway exits!

My mind and soul love the serenity and far-reaching views in areas like this. It is difficult to return to civilization again. I had the same feeling on the Appalachian Trail last year, nearly every afternoon when I returned to the camper. I thrive on peace and quiet.

Traffic volume is low on I-90 through South Dakota, Wyoming, and Montana. The speed limit is 75 MPH except through some small cities. Most folks go faster than that unless they're in a camper or simply not in a big hurry. I imagine many travelers are bored silly by most of the landscape, but I'm fascinated enough by all the things to see to stay awake during the journey, like numerous antelope in Wyoming, or the teepee, below, common at South Dakota rest areas. We even spotted another Virginia license plate today.

If you are alert and don't succumb to the drone of the engine, you can see a lot on the often-lonely stretch of road through South Dakota and eastern Wyoming.

ADVENTURES AND MISADVENTURES

Most of our miles the past two days were on fast, smooth freeways with little traffic. The weather was great, cooling considerably as we got farther and farther west. No problems, right?

Wrong.

Well, we did reach our home-away-from home for the next three or four weeks in Dayton, Wyoming (the Foothills Campground) the second afternoon, but not without further adventures for which we didn't bargain.

It wouldn't be a real Road Trip without some adventure, now would it??

I happened to be driving when potential disaster struck yesterday morning- a camper tire blew out on 1-70 west of Columbia, Missouri!

Deja vu. A similar incident occurred several years ago on I-80 in the desert west of Salt Lake City. It's not fun changing a tire on a freeway when vehicles are blasting by at 80 MPH.

This was an original tire that had plenty of tread. Jim checked the air pressure in the truck and camper tires before we began each morning because of the dangers of over- or under-inflated tires, especially in hot weather, with the number of miles we were driving.

We were fortunate that the effect of the blow-out didn't cause the camper or truck to swerve as happens when a front tire blows out. In fact, we didn't even realize anything had happened until a passing motorist waved for us to stop. Jim then noticed flying pieces of tire out his side window. We probably littered the freeway like tractor-trailer trucks do when the tread separates from one of their eighteen tires.

When I pulled over to the side of the freeway we could smell burning rubber. Jim got out to find the right rear tire tread completely separated from the rim, shredded and hanging loose on the axle.

Fortunately, the tire was on the shoulder side of the road. As I rocked the truck and fifth-wheel camper back and forth slowly, Jim was able to pull the tread away from the rim and toss it into the bed of the truck. We could see an exit just ahead, so we drove there slowly and he was able to quickly change the tire in a shady, safe location and we were on our way again.

Time lost: about thirty minutes.

Since it was Memorial Day, we didn't even try to find a new spare tire. There probably wouldn't be any authorized Goodyear Tire distributors open that could handle a warranty claim on a holiday. We could wait until we got to Sheridan the next day to get a spare. What were the odds that we'd need to replace another tire in the next couple days?

Ha!!!

"It's always somethin.'"   - Roseanne Rosanna Danna

I had just started a driving shift this afternoon when another original camper tire blew out three miles east of Gillette, Wyoming!! I told Jim I felt or heard a "thump." It took about thirty seconds to start seeing tread flying. I pulled over. This time, the tire was on the freeway side. The tread was separated again but still attached to the rim.

Both blown tires are shown below in the back of our truck. The completely separated one from the first day is on the right, today's on the left:

We weren't sure how far it was to the next exit, but figured it out from a mile marker across the road. Three miles. Too far to drive on a blow-out.

Jim's mind raced with possibilities. We had no spare to put on the camper. He lowered the truck spare, but it wouldn't fit the camper rim. He decided it would be best to unhitch the truck from the camper, drive into town to find a suitable tire, have it mounted on the first rim already in the truck bed, return to the camper, remove the blown tire, and put the new one on.

Before he could get out of the truck, an older pick-up pulled in front of us. A kind local man about our age got out, assessed the situation, and said, "I just knew it couldn't be the truck!" (He's a fellow Ford truck owner.) He jumped into the bed of our truck, handed yesterday's tire rim to Jim, and promptly took him to the Flying J at the next exit.

I stayed with the truck and camper. The dogs napped. I tried to nap, but decided I needed to be vigilant in case someone else stopped to help - or ran into us at 80 MPH. (Like seeing that coming would have helped!!) I could see storm clouds approaching, below, and hoped Jim and our new friend would return before it started to rain:

Jim was gone about 45 minutes. He and our rescuer quickly took the bad tire off and put the new one on. It didn't rain until an hour later, much farther up the road.

We were mighty grateful for the generous assistance of this man. There are a lot of good people left in this country of ours, despite all the media attention the bad guys get.

Downtime was an hour and a half this time. We still made it to the Foothills Campground by 5 PM, thankful that no more tires blew out.

Wyoming at last!

Next entry: introduction to the beauty of northeastern Wyoming and the Bighorn Mountains.

Sue
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Cody, and Tater

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2006 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil