Badlands

24 Aug

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Keep a fire burning in your eyes, pay attention to the open skies, you never know what will be coming down  —  Jackson Browne

Leaving the Occidental early,  we share the morning with some of the gentleman I’d seen the night before.  White haired all, they gas up their bikes as we fill mom’s car, and then drive off ahead of us into the fierce morning light, a vision of what aging should be.

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Sailing along at a legal 80 mph, we pull off in Gillette, Wyoming for a quick breakfast at Lula Belle’s, downtown across from the rail yards.  Crowded, Lula Belle’s sports more than it’s fair share of big men with crazy beards; grizzled is not a look that’s shied away from.

A woman at the counter is doing a fair impression of late career Liz Taylor on a four day bender.  With jet black hair going in no certain direction and hand-drawn eyebrows, she is smoking hard and keeping a keen eye on me.  Apparently, I’m up to no good.

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We have a short day in front of us, the only plans being a drive through the Badlands.  But looking at the map, Mom notices Deadwood.

“Let’s stop.  Chuck and I stopped there once.  You’ll like it.”

So we exit and drive seven miles south along Whitewood Creek, into a narrow valley.  It’s crowded.  With motorcycles.

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It turns out that the next town over is Sturgis, and every year they have this little motorcycle gathering.  Today is the 75th anniversary.

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Bikers and cowboys seem to go together, but while their ancestors may have been soldiers, gamblers and gunfighters, the biker spirit seems to have gentled over the decades.  An amiable bunch with a taste for freedom and the wind in their hair, they also have a fine appreciation for fashion.

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I love a good bar, none of which, interestingly, seem to exist in this town whose legend is based largely on saloons. Wild Bill Hickok took a bullet to the head while playing poker in Nuttal & Mann’s No. 10 Saloon, which existed in the space now inhabited by this completely different saloon, which, nonetheless, continues to work hard making money off the dead man’s spirit.

DSC_0214 (2)Tiring of the noise and hucksterism, and just when I thought our homage had been paid, Mom decides we need an old-timey portrait.  Looking at the photographs lining the walls, I note the popularity of nearly naked biker chicks sprawling across Harleys, or wrapping themselves in the American flag, but mom’s looking for more of a “Little House on the Prairie” kind of thing.  Not sure where this leaves me, I go for the duster and the cropped Tom Petty top hat.  Combined with the 2 day beard and the guns they shove into my hands, the end product is more like Ma Ingalls and her son who returned from the Civil War not quite right.

Finally, with little in the way of gun play, we make our escape.

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My spirit lightens as we leave the valley.  After a time, the Badlands begin to appear.

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Seemingly out of nowhere.

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Stopping at a scenic overlook, I hear someone say, “Do you want me to take your picture?”

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It’s Christie, who, with Eric, has traveled all the way from Philadelphia to Sturgis to take part in the festivities.  It’s their first time.  Like us, they’re heading home

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Picking up 14 East, the light begins to fade.

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The sky changes minute by minute.  Severe thunderstorms are coming in from the northwest.

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We do our best to stay ahead of them, wondering about Christie, Eric, and everyone else making their way home from Sturgis this afternoon.

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The sky to the east is clear before us, but we make it to Pierre only minutes before the rain, and are just settling in as the drops begin to fall.

3 Responses to “Badlands”

  1. Barbara Bell-Collins August 24, 2015 at 7:13 pm #

    AWE, I remember it Well! Great job Todd…

  2. Dan Barr September 5, 2015 at 7:00 pm #

    Oh, yeah! The Badlands. My sister (aged 14 at the time) was fascinated by them. Me? Not as much, but having seen the Black Hills of SD prior to this, the history of the Badlands, if not the scenery, was fascinating. Of course, at 16, I was too cool to even pretend to be interested, but we all have secret lives that become part of who we are as we grow up. Living vicariously through you and Mom right now. I owe you a burger and a beer when you get back, to say ‘thanks.’
    DB

    • dtoddbell September 16, 2015 at 9:22 am #

      Thanks Dan. It’s always good to hear from you. Looking forward to catching up.

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