There are very few instances in my life that I can honestly say I felt like I was in a movie. However, the way we started our morning at Sleepy Hollow Campground in Wall, South Dakota is counted among those times. Nestled cozy and content in our blankets, we slept soundly, and happily, unaware that the town of Wall has a bright and early start time. The work day began. By that, I am referring to the terrifying shrill, 4 AM wake-up call that the town receives in the form of a very long Freight Train pulling into station. Unwittingly, we stayed in the campground that shared a neighbor line with a fill station. After making no attempts at quiet during the hour it occupied the fill line, the train trumpeted its departure promptly at 5 AM. This triggered yet another viscerally offensive cacophony of horn screams. Desperate for the cessation of the devil train, we began to rest easier as the horns faded eastward. As our luck would have it another train shrieked its intentions to pull into the station. It’s in this moment that Joe and I recalled for the second time on this trip ‘My Cousin Vinny’.
Our plight was not without benefits! Since we were at one of the nicest campgrounds we have had the pleasure of staying in, we could give ourselves a lovely morning gift – A SHOWER!!!! Manna from heaven, Sweet nectar of life! At this point we had grown accustomed to several days in a row doing a daily sponge bath in random bathrooms or in the tent (baby wipes were our best friend – dirty but true). After being woken up in such a brusque manner, I must admit the shower did a world of good. We felt ready to take on the rest of our day, and used the extra hours of time at our disposal to get an early start into the Badlands. The Badlands were an incredible sight; a place where the true king of nature is erosion . Utterly unforgiving, completely wild, and stunning in its purity.
However, even a fabulous shower couldn’t wash away the oddities that would follow us through the day. The Birds must have gossiped about their fallen brethren and offered up another contender to battle Hefe. With decisive vigor, the brave bird launched itself in determination at Hefe...with a small 'thunk!' the would-be champion followed in the footsteps of his predecessor. Hefe elevated his title to 'National Champion' (we've crossed state lines now) with a record of 2-0. Although, it seems the birds have learned from their previous mistakes- instead of going for the windshield, the new opponent opted to aim lower and careen into our radiator. Thankfully, no real damage other than a distinctive bird print in its metal screen (talk about leaving a mark!). Nauseated again by the murder/suicide of yet another animal, we pressed onward. Only to shortly thereafter encounter another first on our trip, the sighting of our first tumbleweed! … which we promptly ran over, and it became wedged under the wheel well. Great. We pull over, (take a picture of course) dislodge the sizable bouquet of dry twigs, and set it free… where it promptly tumbled straight into the road. Determined to keep the tumble in its natural habitat, I threw it over a fence as far away from the road as possible. After a trying morning, of train horns and unintentional vehicular manslaughter, we decided it was time for breakfast. We ate at a resort just south of the Badlands, Cedar Pass Lodge and had ourselves a solid breakfast.
Bellies full, we hit the old dusty trail on our way to Nebraska, to stop by Fred’s Flying Circus – an amazing art installation created by a man who worked on cars his whole life. He opted to restore some vehicles, weld on well-loved television characters, and place them on extremely high poles, as if they were flying. The man who created it, Fred Schritt, had passed recently, and his family chose to keep his art legacy intact.
It was after admiring the vehicular masterpieces that it dawned on us we were required to give Hefe some maintenance, particularly since he had been fighting the locals the preceding days. We found a nearby Walmart that would help us out for both the oil change, as well as the lot to stay parked for the night. We arrived just in time for them to take us as their last customer. The salesperson was kind enough to let us go find food inside, eat it at the service desk, and chat with us about our journey (they too were perplexed by the New York license plates). We had a great conversation, and afterwards simply had to park the car, set up, and relax. Except for, there was a little bit of an issue with the weather. After a stunning sunset (fireworks show included free of charge), the wind kicked up and began to rock Hefe. Then thunder and lightning came, no rain, but holy wind. Several times a sudden gust would rock us, and the wind would wail across the broad side of the car, waking us with a start. The thunder and lightning was a result of all the heat that had been building from the previous days. With no humidity to release water and break the cycle, the air was heavy with heat – almost like walking in to an oven. Sleep was elusive to say the least.
Despite our restless sleep, morning came, and brought with it the heat of day. We left Walmart behind and ambled down the road to discover the rest of Nebraska as we made our way to Kansas for a look at the Largest Ball of Twine. On our way, we realized that it was Sunday. Normally, that means nothing, at least not to a New Yorker. Some stores might have odd hours, maybe one or two are closed, but there’s always something open. In the great state of Nebraska, that meant that there was a functioning gas station, and that was it. Every store in the towns we drove through were closed. It was haunting. As if frozen in time, abandoned, and forgotten – but perfectly preserved. Not one person walked down the town streets, no children rode their bikes in the gorgeous sunny weather. We obeyed the 25-mph speed limit and crawled through town, feeling the palpable difference between our preconceived notion of a Sunday, and the reality of these empty streets. Unable to find anything that would allow us to experience more of Nebraska, we pushed onward towards Cawker City, Kansas and the impressively rolled jute wonder.
I must confess myself underwhelmed. Not by the twine ball itself, that was about what I expected, but I suppose the experience is a touch more lackluster than I had anticipated. It’s a gazebo that covers a giant ball of twine, and a mailbox holds the ledger for visitors to sign in. There are no people to talk to, no locals to wax philosophic about their city’s sole contribution to the world of the meandering motorist. Just some pigeons, and a notebook. It made it easier to take our pictures and be on our way, but I suppose I was expecting just a bit more fanfare. Maybe other people don’t get as excited by twine as I do.
We left the twine in the rear-view mirror and decided that we would comfort ourselves to some Kansas City barbecue. But not Kansas City, Kansas – Kansas City, Missouri. We crossed the border into our third state for the day and settled ourselves down for a fabulous meal at BB’s Lawnside BBQ, a restaurant that had been featured on Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives and was also well versed in gluten free food. I enjoyed burnt ends and green beans, while Joe treated himself to their renowned “BBQ Sundae”.
Glutinously satisfied with our food, and the experience, we said our thank-you’s and took to the streets to cross another state line. We opted to spend the night in Des Moines, Iowa at a hotel. The weather reports insisted that a relentless thunderstorm would be passing through, and given the wind we had experienced the night before we didn’t want to risk being in the tent or car. We checked ourselves into the hotel and began to relax our bodies from the long day in the car. We were exhausted from the day’s travels, and very much looking forward to lying in air conditioning for an entire night. The air in Iowa was oppressive, combining it with the untoward heft of humidity made it feel as if we were breathing through hot water. Grateful for the nights shelter, air conditioning, and a shower, we turned off the lights and settled in to watch the storm pass.