The Journey Begins – Wisconsin to The Badlands

Wanderlust 2013: 40 Days in Motion

Day 1 – July 9th, 2013

Minocqua, WI

10:15 a.m. – 74 degrees

It was a hazy, humid July morning when we embarked on our 2013 road trip.  After waiting impatiently for a year to once again spend as much time as possible camping, exploring, and traveling in the national parks, we were finally on our way.  We planned to spend time in the Southwest this year visiting new parks, as well as revisiting some old favorites.  Our first intended stop was The Badlands in South Dakota.  Both determined to drive straight there from Wisconsin, we said goodbye to the family we had been celebrating a long 4th of July weekend with and began our journey.

(As you will notice, the photos are minimal for today since it was a determined day behind the wheel, it rained for a good portion of the drive, and the rest of the drive was in the dark.)

Hwy 70 led us west across Northern Wisconsin, aiming us straight a dark horizon, thick with grey storm clouds.  Plump droplets began to spot the windshield in Fifeld and by the time we were in Winter, we were beneath a hot and heavy rain.  The deluge did not break the intense humidity that hung in the air.  Instead the muggy air became thicker, spreading across our skin like hot maple syrup.

Driving through Wisconsin

Driving through Wisconsin

When we hit Hwy 27, we made the jog south to Hwy 8, then turned west again in Ladysmith.  In an attempt to avoid Eau Claire, we zigzagged down Hwy 63, to Hwy 64, to Hwy 25 down to Hwy 94.  Around 3:00 I took over the wheel.  As we approached the Wisconsin border, we kept our eyes open for a place to purchase one last taste of Wisconsin cheese.  As cliché as it may sound, we are two Wisconsinites who undoubtedly love our cheese.  During last summer’s trip, we found it somewhat challenging to find good, fresh cheese on the road.  We once again realized, as we often do while traveling, that we are spoiled living in Wisconsin and having regular, easy access to good cheese, especially fresh, squeaky cheese curds.  Sadly, there was not a curd to be found on our trail and we crossed the Mississippi River into Minnesota cheese-less.

After maneuvering our way through the congested St. Paul/Minneapolis area, I prepared to drive across Minnesota.  I pinned my ears back and barreled down Hwy 212, to Hwy 23, to Hwy 30 and across the state line.  In South Dakota I followed Hwy 29, then picked up Hwy 90 in Sioux Falls.  It was a long, dark, and fairly uneventful drive.  I spent most of it worrying about D as he tossed fitfully in the passenger seat.  Unfortunately, he had started to feel unwell a few hours back and was unsuccessfully trying to sleep it off.  I kept on our course, trying to get him to a comfortable place to sleep as soon as I could.  It was our ambition to make it all the way to the Badlands tonight. As long D felt he could maintain himself in the car for a while, I was determined to get us there.  The quicker we were able to camp, hopefully, the more likely D would be able to get some solid rest.

Salem Creek Rest Stop, South Dakota

Salem Rest Area, South Dakota

We crossed into Mountain Time at 11 something, as we approached The Badlands.  Throughout the year leading up to this trip, D and I spent many hours pouring over maps and travel books, pondering our tentative plans.  Mike highlighted several camping options within the park, and we had Sage Creek Primitive Campground in mind as our first stopping point.  A primitive campground, Sage Creek is free on a first-come first-served basis.  The campground is located on the north edge of the park, accessed via the unpaved Sage Creek Rim Road.

Coming into The Badlands at night may not be as colorful as arriving during daylight hours, but it was just as interesting.  It was not long after we turned onto Sage Creek Rim Road that I realized how rutted the road was.  We bumped and knocked along the dirt road as it led us into the darkness.  My high beams illuminated only a small section of the road at a time, leaving me wondering what was beyond their scope.  I navigated along the dark, twisting road.  As I rounded a corner, I was met by four glowing sets of bright white circles.  EYES!  I slammed on the brakes.  D jostled forward.  What in the world?!  What large mammal with gigantic eyes roams freely around these plains and badlands?  Oh yeah, BISON.  My headlights reflected off of their huge cow-like eyes, beaming back to me as creepy, bright white orbs.  No pupils could be distinguished, and at first, no visible respective body either.  For a moment, they were just vacant, floating eyes looking directly at me.  As my own eyes adjusted, I began to make out the huge bodies behind the eyes as they crowded along the edge of the road.  I was unsure what to do.  Do I pass them?  Do I wait?  Unsure what I was nervous about, D encouraged me to keep driving, insisting there was more than enough room to pass the bison.  Trusting of his judgment and experience I squeezed past the spectral scene.  Wide-eyed and wild, the bison stared at me like hungry zombie cattle.  The bright orbs followed our path as we passed, disappearing as soon as they were beyond the reach of our headlights.  The massive mammals were suddenly just part of the darkness.  The realization of what may await us as we continued on Sage Creek Rim Road tightened by grip on the steering wheel.  D kept trying to explain, “They’re just big cows.  What’s the problem?”  However, that did not change the fact that I still did not want to HIT one of those “big cows.”  I glued my eyes to the windshield and carefully rounded each corner.

We encountered several more groups of night-roaming bison as I drove.  Each time we were greeted with the same unnerving sight; bodiless eyeballs gleaming in the darkness. Eventually we did end up having to wait for some bison to clear the road before we continued driving.  Their huge bodies swayed as they stood staring back at us. Then, as though startled, one bison lurched forward and clattered his hoofs across the road.  The rest followed, falling into a line along the roadside.  They lumbered along beside us as we passed, both continuing into the night.

It was around midnight when we finally reached Sage Creek Campground.  We pitched our tent and D went to sleep.  Following the hair-raising zombie bison experience, I was wide awake and transfixed by our first night in big sky country.  There was no moon and the sky was embroidered with stars.  I climbed on the top of our car and stretched out on the roof facing the sky.  It was a magnificent night.  The bright stars twinkled and shined while coyotes released their low, eerie howls into the seamless darkness of the western night.  Countless shooting stars trailed light across the black sky, some glowing brilliantly for up to four full seconds before fading.  I gaped up at the wide open sky and reveled in this moment of natural ecstasy.

Despite the startling spectacle of the buffalo in my brights, I was elated to be were we were.  After an entire year of hoping and waiting, eagerly anticipating our summer plans, we were finally back on the road.  I felt terrible that D was starting our trip under the weather, but hopefully a good night’s sleep would be all he needed.  I desperately want to wake him to share in our first beautiful night, but I knew we would have many more fantastic nights to come.  Instead, I curled up in a blanket on the roof of the car and gazed into the night until I could barely keep my eyes open.  Eventually, I snuck into our tent snuggled next to a deep-sleeping D.  Hopefully he would feel better tomorrow as we planned explore the Badlands.  For now, a good night’s sleep was in order for us both.  I gazed through the small opening I left unzipped around the entrance to our tent and thanked the night for her splendor.  The coyotes continued their mournful calls as I closed my eyes and drifted across the starry sky.

Wanderlust 2013 Travel Journal (Front)

Wanderlust 2013 Travel Journal (Front)

Wanderlust 2013 Travel Journal (Back)

Wanderlust 2013 Travel Journal (Back)

Wanderlust 2013 Soundtrack – Day 1

Rainy drive through Wisco

Animals – Pink Floyd

The Wall – Pink Floyd

D’s Blues Playlist

Leave a Reply