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Sunday, September 13, 2009  

Phase One, Plan D

Much like military battle plans, our vacation plans rarely survive contact with reality. For instance, until very recently, we were intending to drive around (and at one point, over) Lake Michigan and visit friends in Kalamazoo. The day we had originally planned to be there, we ended up finding ourselves a thousand miles west of there. Shit happens, you know?

Of course, we've always improvised our vacations, to whatever extent possible (which is why we never went on a cruise again). Sometimes that means we end up in a hotel bed shaped like an inverted U that we're afraid to get undressed in, but other times it results in unexpected awesomeness.

Like how on Day 2, Trash and M. Edium and I were having a late (and, in all cases but mine, pretty much inedible) lunch at Wall Drug. We'd spent the first night in Mitchell (although saving the Corn Palace for the return trip), been through the Badlands Loop, and were just about to make the final push to Rapid City, where we planned to spend the night in a hotel before moving into Custer State Park and setting up our camping gear. But Trash said hey, why not just go on and camp tonight? Let's see if we can secure a site. After all, how hard could that be, in the Black Hills, on the Saturday before Labor Day?

So let me tell you about where we like to camp when we go to Custer State Park. Along the main east-west stretch of road through the park is a small, eight-site campground, tucked in between the road and a dramatic sheer cliff, at the base of which is a babbling stream. I wouldn't believe it myself if I hadn't been there several times, and even then I start to think I've imagined it if it's been more than several years.

So after completing our Wall Drug experience (and remind me to tell you about that some other time), we get back on I-90, head on west, and arrive at the east entrance to Custer State Park a bit before 4:00 p.m. The ranger who takes our admission fee and sticks the required documentation on our dashboard all but laughs at us when we ask about our chances of getting a spot at all, let alone one of the ones we have in mind. "The park is full," he says flatly, and recommends us to a commercial campground outside the park (which we will later drive past and deem horrible).

But, keeping hope alive, we proceed on to that idyllic little campground. None of the signs or the little notes stuck to the number posts are encouraging, but Trash gets out, parks her ass on the picnic table at a seemingly unclaimed spot, and sends M. Edium and me back to the Park Office, a few miles back up the road.

I do this with trepidation, because wrangling the park rangers is generally Trash's job. I don't even know how this crap works half the time. But when the boy and I walk into the office, the boss ranger apparently takes pity on us, and says we can have one site that apparently the rightful renter never showed up to claim. I snap it up.

And then I ask if we can stay there through Tuesday night, since we're planning to start heading back Wednesday morning. The bad news? No. But the good news is that after the first night, we can spend the rest our stay at the park at, you guessed it:

It's still there.

So that worked out okay. Even if we did spend that first night in a hastily-assembled temporary camp on the edge of a tent city the size of District 9, dining on Chef Boyardee before going to bed on what would turn out to be the coldest (and, as it later turned out, longest) night of the season, only to discover our air mattress had sprung a slow, invisible, but comprehensive leak since its last use. After all that, we did end up in our favorite single campsite in all of South Dakota, if not the entire Midwest or indeed the world. Later this week I'll tell you about all the different ways we almost died there.

posted by M. Giant 9:09 PM 0 comments


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