Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Another Stellar Day

I woke up just before sunrise to hear the coyotes howling over the hill. My camp site is in a stand of pine trees on a hill above the prairie to the east. The sun finally comes over the trees and shines onto my bed and I’m ready to go.
Today I head into Custer State Park to hike up to the top of Harney Peak. Custer State Park is in the southern Black Hills of South Dakota. The Black Hills are a maze of jagged granite and sandstone spires poking out above the hardwood and pine forests. There are significant efforts to cull the pine population to make way for a return of hardwoods to the hills and a healthier forest.
I park across from Sylvan Lake, which is a small, dark lake with a dramatic granite peak coming up through the middle. The trail leads me around the lake and then up a series of hills, higher and higher until I’m approaching Harney. Harney Peak is the highest peak east of the Rockies in the US, but the starting altitude for the climb is high as well so the hike isn’t too difficult. I return by a different trail than I came by, hoping to climb Little Devil’s Tower on the way down. As I approach the spur trail the thunder that has been in the distance all afternoon is suddenly overhead and it begins to rain. Yesterday this same thing happened and it quickly turned into quarter sized hail causing chaos at the Wide Cave Park visitor center. I decide to go get an early dinner and return and hike back up the trail after the storm has passed.
Exhausted and starving I head into Hill City to visit a restaurant at the Alpine Inn that my friend Colin had told me about. The menu has two items; “The Small” and “The Large”. Each comes with a baked potato, some texas toast, a wedge salad and a steak which will either be small or large based on your menu selection. This sounds just about right after a day of climbing hills and eating granola bars.

One recurring challenge that I’ve neglected to mention in this last week is the Sturgis Bike Rally which has caused every road in the region to be filled with Harleys rumbling up and down the hills, around the parks and through scenic overlooks that others are trying to use as a quiet space to think while they write their blog. But today I’ve had a good hike and I’m about to have a good meal and I’m in a good mood so I decide to play along and stop at the bar where I see all the bikers hanging out while I wait for my table at the Alpine. I ask the waitress what’s on tap and get an exasperated look; a quick glance around and I see everyone with a can of either a Bud Light or a Bud Light Lime. I think about walking out but sigh and get a bud light and listen to the guitarist who is voluntarily playing Free Bird.

Later as I’m walking down the street mourning the loss of my four dollars (three for the beer and one to the poor guitarist’s new truck fund jar) I see a familiar face pass by. I stop for a second and turn around to see him cross the street and head into an art gallery. It seems impossible but I have to check, so I run across the street and into the gallery and up to the man who I just passed in the street. “You weren’t in Rapid two days ago holding up signs on the corner, were you?”. “Oh man, you saw me!?” he exclaims and his mother standing next to him lets out a laugh. As it turns out, not only is he the guy that I happened to take a picture of two days ago in a town 30 miles away, but we’re also both waiting for a table at the same restaurant. We merge our reservations to one table and I join Tom, his mother and father and their two friends for dinner (I order “The Large, rare”).

I find out that Tom and his friends have been hanging out on corners with signs saying things like “Have a Stellar Day!” and “Give More Hugs!” after seeing coverage of a Westboro Baptist protest on TV. The idea is that when you see someone with a sign you assume the message will be tense in one direction or another, but these boards are simply positive. The bikers in town for the rally have been loving it.

One of his parents’ friends is Fred Cogelow, an extraordinary artist who carves intricate three dimensional portraits from wood. We discuss Fred’s travels for shows and Tom’s time in South America and my trip across the country. Hearing about my trip, Tom’s family is kind enough to offer me a place to stay at their house in Rapid.
Back in Rapid, Tom and I go into town and he shows me around. The main square where chunks of granite have been placed for an artist to sculpt into natural scenes from South Dakota; Art Alley, where every structure in the alley from walls to dumpsters has been given over to artists to paint; the sculptures of presidents on each corner of Main Street.  I see that Rapid is a unique and wonderful city and Tom truly has provided another stellar day.

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