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Mar 21, 2006, 5:55 AM

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Edge's Wild Ride, A Trip to the Black Hills
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An old trip report I had laying around, but I was reminded of it by Dingus's "Was That Wrong" thread in Community. Like so much that is involved in climbing, the excitement was in the journey, not the destination.

On the Road to Yosemite, 1982

Every climber has his or her Mecca. For boulderers, it is Font, Hueco, or Bishop. For the alpinist, it may be Chamonix or the Canadian Rockies. For the trad climber, however, there can only be one, and that is Yosemite Valley. That is what drew me to join forces with a couple of new acquaintances for the beginning of a cross-country pilgrimage, my first ever trip to the Valley.

“Flash” was a fellow climber who I only knew tangentially through friends. His friend Mike was a bike racer. Looking for a third person to share gas and driving, they had posted a note on the message board at the local climbing outfitters; I was only too happy to join in, as my only other option involved travelling via Greyhound bus both ways, and I certainly didn’t want to do that.

The only foreseeable problem was that both of my new friends were driving to Wyoming to take up high paying but dangerous work in the oil fields; they would only take me as far as Boulder. Still, the thought of a cross-country road trip was too much to pass on; I would worry about the rest of the trip when I got to Colorado.

And so it was that on one cool early September morning we all piled ourselves and our gear into Flash’s brown Chevy van and headed south to New York. Our first night was spent at Camp Slime at the Gunks, after which Flash and I spent two days climbing on the Trapps and Skytop while Mike rode his bike through the rolling hills and orchards. There was no better way to get to know Flash than by sharing a rope on some of the East coast’s most classic routes, and by the time we climbed aboard the brown whale and headed West, we were fast friends.

The next stretch of our journey would be a long one devoid of climbing destinations, and so we agreed to drive straight through, taking turns with a driver and shotgun up front while the third slept in the back in between the bicycle, haul bags, and packs stuffed with gear. We also loaded up with food at the supermarket to save on cash, eating sandwiches, chips, and ramen noodles for lunch or dinner. Our only necessity was a morning diner stop to stretch our legs and tank up on high-octane java.

There was little to pass the time as we covered the mind-numbing miles from Pennsylvania through Minnesota, but we made do. The front seat passenger’s main job was to read the map and to scroll a constant supply of doobies for the others. Mike who also smoked roll your own tobacco showed an amazing ability to fill and roll the paper one handed, a feat that he would often accomplish as he was driving as well.

Music was also key, and Flash had a great system in his van. We each had brought our favorite tunes, everything from the Dead, to Neil Young, and the Stones, but by far our favorite for the trip was “We Are Not Men, We Are Devo.” It was inevitable that whenever “Whip It” came up, we would crank the volume and start bobbing our heads furiously and playing air guitar, years before Wayne and Garth were doing it to “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

In this way we passed the early midwestern states and across the border to South Dakota. Flatness, flatness, and more flatness surrounded us, but we were now inspired by the promise of our next destination in the Black Hills. The Needles were an intriguing place, a land of tall, thin spires and infamous John Gill test pieces, and we were excited. Finally we would be able to rest the van and our minds as we cranked on legendary new stone.

The miles passed relatively quickly as we were amused by the highway billboards that cropped up every 3 miles or so touting “Wall Drug,” a small store that had originally lured by passers in with the promise of free ice water and had used this success to grow into an enormous general store that was the first major tourist trap in SD. We stopped and laughed at the piles of people in the parking lot; Flash’s favorite activity (which he practiced at every opportunity) was to roll up next to a small group of women, roll down the window, pop on some sunglasses, and say, “Hey baby, like my brown van?”

Somewhere in South Dakota, East of the Badlands.

Several laughs and miles later the landscape finally changed and we began to see brilliant yellow, red, and orange off in the distance. We entered the Badlands, named for its maze of canyons where outlaws could ride their horses to elude the sheriff and his posse. We spent the afternoon cruising the loop and taking short hikes to stretch our legs before the final stretch to the Needles. We stocked up our supplies at the local Piggly Wiggly supermarket, buying such things as “Mother Fuuker’s Salted Nuts” and “Good, You Betcha! Wisconsin Cheese.” As day turned to night, it was then my turn at the wheel until we hit the Black Hills Campground.

Me in the Badlands.

This is where the fun began...

Anxious to get there, I drove like a madman. In the darkness, we could only make out the dark outlines of mountains, the first we had seen in some time. The road curved repeatedly between the towering masses, and the van swayed like a logging truck as I swooshed and swerved at high velocity along it. By now the baggage in the back was being tossed side to side, and so Mike moved up to peer between the front seats to avoid wearing his bicycle like a halo.

It was just as I rounded one particularly blind corner when I saw something in the road, an enormous black mass. I lay on the brakes hard, screeching to a halt a mere foot from it.

We all gazed in amazement as the headlights detailed the pile of dense brown fur in front of us. The buffalo, unfazed by the near collision, looked casually up and turned his head to look at us, his nose breathing moisture on the windshield. We waited and watched, hoping he would move out of our way before deciding that he should instead attack us. After a couple of minutes I gave the horn a quick beep, and when that didn’t work, I stepped it up to long blasts; still nothing.

Finally, I turned on the windshield wiper to wipe the buffalo breath off the windshield, and this, of all things, made him move. He began to circle the brown van to the rear, when Flash, who was particularly high, made a startling observation, “ Oh, great. First you gave him a mating call with the horn, then you batted your eyelids at him, and now he’s heading for our backside! Step on it before he mounts the tailpipe!”

I gave the big brown van the gas, leaving the obviously amorous mammal to find a new love.

We rolled into the campsite late, set up the tent with blows to the stakes that elicited calls of “shut up” from unseen neighbors and crawled in.

The next day Flash and I top roped Gill’s famous Thimble route, then went into the Ten Pins area to climb the spectacular towers of Tent Peg, whose 80 foot height ended at a summit just big enough for one, and Tricouni Nail, which we had to descend from by throwing the rope over the summit as we simul-rapped down opposite sides. Both summits contained canisters that, when opened, contained paper and a pencil along with the names of other summiteers dating back to the sixties. We added our names to the surprisingly small lists.

Tricouni Nail, or maybe Tent Peg.

Sylvan Lake area.

Back at camp, we met up with Mike who had gone on a 6-hour bike ride. While we had been gone, two rather attractive women had set up in the next site over, and Mike had already taken the opportunity to introduce himself. Seeing us eye them, he explained that he had presented them with his smoothest moves, but when one girl became mildly interested then the other took the opportunity to rain on his parade. They were both traveling from Idaho to a Baptist revival in Minnesota, and she would not allow her friend to insinuate that he would get anything more than pleasant conversation.

Learning this, Flash and I retreated to the camp showers. The coin operated boxes on the wall required four quarters for 3 minutes, and I had to borrow eight from Flash. He undressed and got in his first.

I also unrobed and deposited the first four quarters, but nothing happened. I jiggled the handle, but still nothing. Finally I gave it a small whack, and when that produced no results I hauled off and belted it. The noise had made Flash peek out from behind his shower curtain, and we both watched amazed as the locked drawer under the machine popped open, revealing a king’s ransom in 25 cent pieces.

“Well don’t just stand there,” Flash said, “either push it back or take them and run!”

I grabbed the nearest makeshift pouch; loaded it and it’s identical other with quarters, wrapped a towel around my naked waist, slid on my sneakers for the gravelly run, and bolted out the door.

I must have presented quite a sight to the campground denizens as I ran the ¼ mile back to our site, but I was moving too fast and I would never see these strangers again. Rounding the corner of our site, I circled the van to where the picnic table was. Before he came into sight, I prepared Mike for what he was about to see, “Dude, two whole sockfulls of quarters, woo hoo!!!”

What I didn’t know was that while I had left, the one girl had gone over to our site to follow up with Mike; I guess she had figured why bother asking the Lord for forgiveness every day if you do nothing that requires you to be forgiven. Her friend had followed shortly after to chaperone, but since Mike was being gentlemanly, even she was warming up to him. The sight of a half naked man with long hair and untied shoes carrying two sockfuls of pilfered quarters, however, was a bit more than either of them had bargained for. The holy roller immediately grabbed her friend by the arm and they ran back to their site, where they promptly moved their picnic table behind a tree and out of our view. Mike, to say the least, was unimpressed.

The next day we climbed again, taking the van with us so as to leave the scene of the crime. We later proceeded west to Devils Tower, arriving at that campground just before dark. As I would for the next several weeks, I paid my $8 share of the camping fee with quarters.

Edited to add that Part Two is located at

Part three to follow in late Spring/early Summer 2010.

(This post was edited by edge on Apr 6, 2010, 4:43 PM)

Edit Log:
Post edited by edge () on Apr 6, 2010, 4:13 PM
Post edited by edge () on Apr 6, 2010, 4:26 PM
Post edited by edge () on Apr 6, 2010, 4:31 PM
Post edited by edge () on Apr 6, 2010, 4:36 PM
Post edited by edge () on Apr 6, 2010, 4:37 PM
Post edited by edge () on Apr 6, 2010, 4:43 PM

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