This post can certainly be enjoyed without reading the preceding entry.
There is always something more to add to the “to-do” list, and it isn’t commonplace to include activities of enjoyment on that list. No, it is a place for chores—for things we don’t really want to do, but we know we have to accomplish to feel like decent human beings or to keep our jobs or earn our degrees. Without even realizing it, we have adopted many conveniences in modern times that allow us to spend much less time on various chores. Time saved, however, isn’t always well spent.
My DVD player and Netflix can attest to this. (I have, however, written a post justifying these activities in a sense.)
About a month ago, my coworker and I found ourselves wanting to celebrate the accomplishment of putting another work-week in the books. A sunny but cold Friday afternoon, hanging around town, making spaghetti or even playing one of our favorite board games just didn’t satisfy the spirit. Driving away from school and in the opposite direction of both our homes, we endeavored to take on a mini adventure: travel two hours for fresh, fried donuts at Wall Drug. Yes—the Wall Drug you’ve heard about in movies or from Uncle Harold’s decades past cross-country road trip. Most people know about the five cent coffee and free ice water, but even some people we know here in Pierre had never tasted a Wall donut.
As we warmed our seats, I thought to call and find out if we’d make our destination in time. Alas, January is the slow season, and, although we’d be losing an hour by entering the Mountain Time Zone, the Wall Drug cafe would be closed by the time we arrived.
This is the point where many adventures turn into “Almost Lovers.”
We were glad to have saved ourselves the disappointment of tugging on a locked door, but I discovered a new atrocity: my coworker, a native South Dakotan, had never been to Badlands National Park, the entrance to which is on the way to Wall Drug.
It was decided in the next few minutes that the adventure would be revived in the morning, and our evenings were instantly enchanted; in some way it felt like we’d already gone on the adventure. I read once that if you have a goal, like losing weight, you shouldn’t tell a lot of people because your brain will release endorphins each time you do, and that chemical pat-on-the-back can be enough to make you feel like you’ve already reached your goal, thereby reducing your drive to actually bring it to fruition. Be that as it may, we were going on this trip.
Our 7:15 AM departure was only slightly earlier than the beginning of our normal work day, but it was, of course, easier to get out of bed. I decided we should take Highway 34 out of Pierre, as opposed to the jaunt to Vivian followed by over an hour on I-90.
We’d done this same trek twice during the fall on the way to oral interpretation contests in Sturgis and Deadwood. For those we left at 5:30 AM and with a gaggle of high schoolers in tow. Never before I moved to South Dakota had I ever experienced the phenomenon of driving on the same road, making no turns (except into the parking lot), stopping at no traffic lights or stop signs, passing through no towns that supported more than a bare-bones gas station and to end up at my destination three hours later.
This time, with Wall as our destination we did make the turn we’d passed times before en-route to Sturgis. I snapped various pictures of the prairie as the Eastern sun began to highlight the frozen grasses. A photo couldn’t capture one stop we made to survey the largest grouping of deer I’d ever seen. The plan was to get our donuts and then drive through the Badlands Loop, but, as the sun peeked over the horizon, I had a change of heart, we consulted the map, and took an alternative route, meeting up with I-90 before the Eastern entrance to the park.
After pulling through the unmanned entrance kiosk, we switched seats so I could drive and she could marvel. Soon after curling around the first few turns, we were met by some more deer. Having no cars behind us, we took our time to move the car in such a way that allowed the best photo composition. We spared no details for Snapchat.
We got out at a few spots where the walkway ice seemed least treacherous. On prior journeys, I think my decision on where to stop was determined based on which parking lots had available spots; we saw two other cars—over the entire 30 mile loop.
Because I’ve lived in a variety of places, I’ve had (and encountered) a variety of views on time. To some people in some places, two hours is an eternity. That was how far my parents and I would travel to see my grandparents when we lived in upstate New York, but when I lived in Amish country Ohio, hardly any of my friends had spent much time in Cleveland, which was an equivalent car ride. Here in South Dakota, traveling two hours..for dinner…isn’t a big deal. We toured through the Badlands Loop as if we could stop back by later in the week, which we could conceivably do, but there isn’t ever much of a reason to take a five hour chunk of time to do so. Still, it was freeing to enjoy such a magnificent place without feeling like we’d never get another chance.
Nearly a million people seek out the Badlands each year. 1973 was a good year for the Park as it hit its all-time high of 1.3 million visitors. There was another spike in numbers in the early ‘90s, and stats for 2016 aren’t posted yet, but it seems like the modern traveller just isn’t as enamored with the idea of visiting this barren landscape as people were when my parents were just a little younger than I am now.
Time ticks on as we go through our days, and I am amazed at how much I can cram into some and how unproductive others feel. Was our mini-adventure day “productive?” That seems like a label I’m compelled to adopt all too often. I’m not going to reach my goals if I’m not being productive. Yes! Of course it was productive! Did my friend and I have titillating conversation? I mean we talked, but we spend a lot of time together, so it wasn’t like there was a lot to catch up on or delve into. I think our experience was actually strengthened by our willingness to be together on, what was at times, a personal journey. We took in the same landscape, but undoubtedly felt different things. It was a shared retreat where we each refueled in the way we needed.
I’m lucky to be surrounded by many people who are willing to go on spontaneous drives with me. People who recognize the value in slowing down to see something simple. Our trip started as a celebration of the completion of another work week, but it ended with a feeling that the trip itself was actually the thing to celebrate. We’d taken the time to do something different, to not just let the laundry lines of work weeks crisscross at the forefront of the story of our lives. The extra time I’ve earned by holding a good job was put to admirable use. The extra money I’ve earned bought a box of donuts that I brought home and shared with those colleagues who’d never had one; another trip is brewing. I’m putting it on my checklist.